Visualizing the Socio-economic Profile of the Bay of Plenty Region - New Zealand

By Michele Hosking

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council, like all regional councils in New Zealand and I suspect other local government organizations around the world, has a statutory responsibility for the sustainable development of its region. In the case of New Zealand this means it is responsible for promoting the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of its communities, not only for the present but also into the future. To do this the council needs to understand the region and the communities it serves – what areas are doing well and what areas would benefit from a bit of a helping hand.

To set the scene, the Bay of Plenty lies on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island and includes more than 12,000 square kilometers of land and another 9,500 square kilometers of coastal marine area. Almost half of the land is in indigenous forest, a good proportion of which is protected as national park land or scenic reserve. The rest of the land is mainly in farming and forestry. The concentration of urban land is in the west, with 80 percent of the population in the two main cities and surrounding areas. The east of the region is where the national park is located and consists mainly of small towns and townships. This uneven development is one of the defining elements of the region and it is important for the regional council to understand how this affects the region and the council’s role in it.

To help gain this understanding and to help develop some sort of base of information to inform the plans and policies the council will develop and implement, the council decided to pull together a wide range of socio-economic information into one report. Profile 2009 – A Socio-economic Profile of the Bay of Plenty Region looks at many factors and tries to display these in a form that is easy to assimilate into other council work.

One of these factors is the 2006 deprivation index which was developed in a joint venture between the Wellington School of Medicine, the University of Otago and the Institute of Political Sciences at Victoria University in Wellington. Although this deprivation index was designed for health sector purposes, it can also be used to assist other organizations when looking at the social and economic well-being of areas and communities. While there is no single agreed-upon definition of what constitutes deprivation, in the context of the New Zealand Deprivation Index it can be described as the ability of people to access material goods and resources.  The ability (or inability) to access these goods and resources can have implications for health, economic advancement of both the individual and the region, and for the social fabric of the area.

The index measures relative socio-economic deprivation and is a continuum which ranges from a score of 1 representing least deprived, to 10 representing most deprived. It does not measure the affluence of an area – just how deprived an area is when compared with other areas. It integrates various factors from the 2006 census including income, home ownership, income support, employment, qualifications, living space, access to communication and access to transport.

The Geospatial Team at the Bay of Plenty Regional Council investigated many different ways of visualizing this information but none of the traditional 2D-type maps allowed people to instantly see where the priority areas were. Just showing the region colored by the deprivation index didn’t work, as many areas in the Bay of Plenty classified as highly deprived are very sparsely populated.

This map shows the 2006 index of deprivation alone. Here it looks as though two-thirds of the region is highly deprived and no distinction is made between those areas of little or no population and those with larger populations.

We decided that we needed to incorporate population into the information being shown on the map, but the area units being used differed vastly in size so simply showing population was going to skew the results. Small areas with a large population were dominated by large areas with a similar population. Population density was clearly the most appropriate measure to use along with the deprivation index to clearly distinguish areas where high population coincided with high relative deprivation. The final map used color to show deprivation and height to show population density and this form of visualization clearly showed those areas where the council’s resources would make a larger impact, both for those communities and even for the region as a whole.

The final version of the map clearly shows that while the Rangitāiki area is classified as highly deprived, this is due almost entirely to the fact that there are very few people living in the area. Whereas the towns of Kawerau, Murupara and Ōpōtiki, for instance, as well as areas such as Waimana, have a high deprivation score as well as a relatively high population. (Click for larger view - 19MB PDF)

The use of this type of 3D map has proven to be an effective way of telling the story of deprivation in the Bay of Plenty and has been an important component in helping the Bay of Plenty Regional Council support sustainable development and strategic thinking for the region.

Published Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Written by Michele Hosking

Published in


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