COVID-19 Impact on Local Councils’ CBD Population.

The change in population mobility in the CBDs compared across the last month and before COVID‑19.

12 October 2020

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19% DECREASE

IN AVERAGE POPULATION ACROSS OUR CBDs COMPARED TO BEFORE COVID‑19

Mobility in every one of the CBDs was still lower last week than it was this time last year. The Christchurch and Dunedin CBDs were closest to normal. Since all the recent COVID-19 cases have been far away in the North Island, it’s possible people in these cities feel safer returning to the city.

Even though the alert level was lower last week than four weeks ago, mobility in most of the CBDs was slightly lower. Auckland CBD showed the largest increase in mobility, as it began to recover from the second lockdown.

How are these insights produced?

Data Ventures is working together with the major telecommunication companies in New Zealand.

Using the aggregated and anonymised mobile data[*] provided to them, along with Stats NZ expertise, Data Ventures has created population estimates of residents and visitors in New Zealand every hour down to suburb level. Read more in the footnotes.

In this report, we look at the population in 8 central business districts: Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. More information on how we have defined these areas can be found here.

The change in population mobility across CBDs last week compared to before COVID‑19.

Here, we compare mobility last week to a normal week in 2019. This gives us a snapshot of how many people are coming and going in the CBDs now compared to before COVID.

Our mobility measure is created using the difference between maximum and minimum population estimates in New Zealand CBDs over a day.

NOTE: Comparisons to 2019 are based on a four-week rolling average for the same period.

1 week ago v normal week 2019

The change in population mobility across CBDs across the last four weeks.

Here, we compare mobility last week to 4 weeks ago during the end of COVID Alert Level 2 (2.5 for Auckland). This gives us an idea of mobility in the CBDs has changed after the return to Alert Level 1.

1 week ago v 4 weeks ago

Mobility in the CBDs during COVID‑19.

As restrictions have lifted, central city businesses are able to operate as usual again. But not everything is back to normal. Now is a good time to see how the aftereffects of lockdown continue to impact the CBDs.

In this section, we explore how mobility in the CBDs has changed over COVID-19. To do this, we have calculated our mobility measure for each week, compared to a similar week in 2019.

This allows us to see how each CBD is tracking compared to others around the country. We can also see how the changing alert levels have affected how many people are entering and leaving the CBD.

The first time we returned to Alert Level 1, mobility in several CBDs was higher than it was before COVID-19. A month of cabin fever may have drawn people back into the central city for a while, but the novelty seems to have worn off.

Now that we are back at Alert Level 1, all the CBDs are quieter than they were last time. More central city employees working from home, businesses closing down, and changes to personal routine all mean the return to pre-COVID levels of activity in the CBD could be slow.

Mobility in the Christchurch CBD fell the least during the return to Alert Level 2. Christchurch businesses may well be used to disruption. All the new cases were also far away in the North Island, so Cantabrians may have been less cautious as a result.

Note: Comparisons to 2019 are based on a four-week rolling average for the same period.

auckland

NOTE: The selected CBD is shown in yellow. Grey lines represent the other CBDs. The vertical lines represent COVID-19 Alert Levels as they progressed in each area, starting at the first line when NZ borders closed, through to the current alert level.

Population in the CBDs - before COVID‑19, 4 weeks ago, and now.

In this section, we look at hourly population counts in the CBD over the course of the week.

We cover off three periods: last week, four weeks ago during the previous alert level, and a normal week in 2019. We have broken out the comparisons into two. We first compare last week to a normal week in 2019 to see how the CBDs are doing compared to last year. We then compare last week to four weeks ago to see how population patterns in the CBD have changed after the return to Alert Level 1.

Note: Comparisons to 2019 are based on a four-week rolling average for the same period.

auckland

1 week ago v normal week 2019

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normal week 2019

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hamilton

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tauranga

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rotorua

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palmerston north

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wellington

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christchurch

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dunedin

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How the different alert levels have affected the CBDs.

The different alert levels each came with different restrictions on business activity. As the whole country has recently returned to Alert Level 1, it’s helpful to know how this might affect population patterns in the CBD.

These plots show the hourly population counts in the CBD for each week in 2020.

Alert Levels 3 and 4, unsurprisingly, flatlined the CBDs. At Level 2 most businesses could re-open, but not everyone was back in the CBD. Smaller daytime population peaks suggest many people were still working from home or avoiding crowded areas.

The other loss at Level 2 was the Saturday night-life. Clubs and bars were open only for socially-distanced, sit-down food and drink. But this change wasn’t permanent: in an average week at Level 1, Saturday night population peaks were noticeably stronger in several CBDs than they were before COVID-19. The most dramatic change was in the Dunedin CBD. Students making up for lost time?

auckland

NOTE: Each thin line represents one week. We have broken these down according to the alert level. The bold lines show the average hourly population for that alert level. Alert Level 0 represents pre-COVID.