Does size really matter?

Peter McQuarters

Somewhere in the dark recesses of what passes for a mind, I have vague recollections of a population sign at one of the entrances to Ashburton  and the figure I’m visualising is either 13,550 or 14,500.

Since those days, I had moved around a bit and lost track of where we were heading.

It was after all the 1980s.

A few times recently, noticing the rampant development opening up in our town, I thought I had better seek updated knowledge.

When I say noticing, how could you not?

Signs of fresh construction sprouts are everywhere.

Flash new subdivisions on all fronts.

Surely, I figured, we must be heading for city status now?

Back in the 70s I received a posting with Kerridge Odeon to Masterton.

Not having moved very far from Hampstead to that point I was both fascinated and a little nervous as to what I would find when I arrived.

Joan Barr of Barrs Mini Market in Nelson Street assured me that it was “much like Ashburton”.

A little larger, at that time 19,600 and struggling to make the magic figure of 20,000 which would have given it city status.

So back to the present day, I’m on the net and wahooo, Wikipedia tells me Ashburton has an urban population of 20,200.

Really, that seems about right given all the new housing everywhere.

Other sources quote a lower figure of around 16,000.

That seems too low. I’m glass half-full today so I’m hanging on the 20,200 number.

If that is correct, why has there not been fireworks displays, street carnivals and general euphoria?

Well, I’ll tell you why.

Cos I missed the memo.

A very important memo dated 1989.

It decreed that the threshold for identifying as a city in New Zealand was to be increased from 20,000 to 50,000.

Fifty Blinkin Thousand!

That’s quite some shifting of the goalposts.

Timaru, home to our carnival-loving seaside mates down the road  was always regarded as a city.

I worked there for five years and always considered the place “the big smoke,” next to Christchurch’s much bigger smoke.

But now it seems, despite our best efforts at growth, encouraging citizens from all over to live the dream in Mid Canterbury, we are never going to be a city.

Just a big town with new shiny bits like our regional neighbours of not dissimilar size, Rangiora and Rolleston.

Maybe our new slogan could be,

“Ashburton. Born a town. Identifying as a city.”

– By Peter McQuarters


Broadcaster Peter Mac is Ashburton born and bred and the afternoon host on the

Hokonui Radio Network.

The views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect the opinion of his employer or the Ashburton Guardian.