A different New Zealand: Looking back 10 years in the rear-view mirror

May 28, 2024 12:09:49 PM / by Andrew Smith


A lot can change in 10 years. And, if we look back into the rearview mirror of our past, then we can see quite clearly that 2014 really was a different place and time, where things were done differently, for example, neither Zoom meetings or Netflix were even really a thing back then.

Indeed, Cloud computing has wholly transformed global IT infrastructure over the last 10 years or so, bringing us the services like Netflix and Zoom (and the NationalMap Basemap Service!) that we all now take for granted.

Cloud isn't just in the sky anymore - it's where our data lives and AI, machine learning, Bitcoin, ChatGPT have all become everyday household conversation topics.

It’s not just the cultural and technology landscape that changes though, so too does the physical environment. Sea levels rise, floods, earthquakes, erosion and other natural forces all impact and change our world.  But perhaps the biggest change enacted upon the physical world is what humans build – our built infrastructure, towns, cities and roads.

When you curate and maintain New Zealand’s most complete and up-to-date geospatial dataset you get to see that change every day.

But, in some ways, it’s like not fully appreciating the height your kids have grown in a year, because you see them every day. (Only to be reminded of how much taller they’ve actually got when you see the look of surprise on great aunt Gertrude’s face when she visits for Christmas…).

That’s because slow incremental change can be almost imperceptible day-to-day and sometimes a bit of time, distance and perspective are needed to really see how much has changed.

The same applies to our physical world too (as anyone who has visited their home-town after a decade or so away can attest to).

In truth, 10 years is a long time whether you’re a kid growing up, or a young growing country like New Zealand. For instance, in 2014, New Zealand had a population of roughly 4.5 million and today we’re at about 5.2 million.

Change of this scale requires infrastructure to match pace, and while we might not be keeping up as much as we should, huge areas of New Zealand’s built environment have still changed dramatically in this time.

And, it’s not just new roads and developments (and all the associated contextual data) changes in policy and societal attitudes can mean regulatory change that is reflected in the data we maintain and curate too, think the massive nationwide changes in speed limits here.

Of course, we’ve captured all of this incremental change at NationalMap, meaning organisations that subscribe to NationalMap can easily analyse, compare and contrast all sorts of data visually.

In fact, when doing some “then and now” comparative analysis and visualisation work for a client recently, I was struck by exactly how much change there was in the certain area we were focused on. In a quieter moment, we reflected on how powerful a simple side-by-side map visualisation can be and thought it would be a positive and useful thing to share this more widely.

With that in mind, we’ve built a side-by-side map comparison tool for anyone interested in seeing this built environment change for themselves, you can find it here.

Looking Back 2014:2024 - Rolleston

Rolleston town in Canterbury, looking back

On the left of the visualisation is the NationalMap basemap and associated data from 2014, and on the right is 2024.  We’ve added some presets in the drop down at the top which you can check out, or you can just pan around to find your own specific area of interest, like perhaps your old home town…? 

You can also switch on the speed limits toggle to see how speed limits have changed over the years.

While it’s good sometimes to pause and glance back in the rear-view mirror to see how far you’ve come, at NationalMap we’ve usually got our eyes firmly on the road ahead and are always looking to add new datasets of value. That’s why we regularly add new Points of Interest (POI) data such as hospitals, schools, petrol and charging stations, supermarkets, banks, railway stations and more.

With that said, this current “looking back” visualisation exercise has really highlighted just how much many of these points of interest have changed over the years too, so stay tuned, we may well do a series of looking back visualisations for these POI datapoints as well.

In the interim, I hope you have some fun using this tool, feel free to share your thoughts on how the world has changed since 2014 in the comments below and if you feel NationalMap data can help your business then please do get in touch.

Topics: roads and transport data, POIs, Basemaps, Location Data, GIS