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Research Article

Rent as a regional asset: rent platforms and regional development in Kaikōura, Aotearoa New Zealand

Received 04 Mar 2021
Published online: 19 Jul 2023


This paper reinterprets rent as geographical rent and argues that it can be mobilized as an asset to drive regional development in the form of geographical rent platforms (GRPs). Framing diverse regional development initiatives in Kaikōura, New Zealand (Aotearoa) as GRPs, the paper illustrates the potential of collectively developed and oriented place-based initiatives to enact futures from regional resourcefulness. It has particular value for rethinking regional development in rural regions and where Indigenous peoples are leading development initiatives; but by asking unfamiliar questions in an unfamiliar place and developing a novel analytical framework, it aims to reinvigorate regional development approaches everywhere.


This paper reframes rent derived from resource economies as geographical rent (a return to place or communities in their environments) and makes the case that geographical rent represents an asset for regional development. We examine the case of Kaikōura, an isolated district in the South Island of New Zealand. While formally both a township and a district, Kaikōura is also a rural region in which collective actors have for 70 years assembled distinctive region-like configurations of institutions, resources and economy. In recent decades, local economic actors have fashioned diverse opportunities and collectively controlled resources into projects to pursue collectively defined futures. It is also a region where the return of lands and waters to Māori has prompted a radical rethink of regional development. We use the case to tease out the concepts of geographical rent and geographical rent platforms (GRPs) as additions to the suite of concepts required to engage actively with contemporary capitalist dynamics and stimulate new, more just regional futures.

Regional studies scholars have called on researchers to invigorate regional studies by asking new questions, looking in unfamiliar places and developing new analytical frameworks (Bailey et al., Citation2020). Our unfamiliar place is Kaikōura; our new question is what can be achieved by treating geographical rent as asset and objective in regional development; and our new analytical framework is the GRP. The case demonstrates the value of reconceptualizing regional development and practising it differently in all settings, especially in relation to resource-oriented economies (Kinossian, Citation2018) and Indigenous economies (tebrakunna country et al., Citation2019a, Citation2019b; Austin et al., Citation2019; Argent, Citation2017; Reid et al., Citation2019; Foley & Mather, Citation2016; Eversole, Citation2017; Kuokkanen, Citation2011). The case offers important lessons for how regional development might be rethought to provide credible alternatives to the methodological regionalism of research and practice in relation to the development state and the trickle down (or across) of growth under neoliberalism (Cooke, Citation2012; Harrison et al., Citation2021; Jones & Woods, Citation2013; Lewis et al., Citation2013; Paasi & Metzger, Citation2017; Pike et al., Citation2007).

The paper fills a gap in the regional studies literature by acknowledging that development strategies are designed to stimulate and trap rent-yielding economic activities in region. It treats regional development as grounded rent generation projects in-the-making rather than as policy or outcome. The observation challenges regional development scholars and practitioners to take a hard look at regional development as political ontology (Carolan, Citation2018; Lewis et al., Citation2013); that is, as a directional and directive configuration of knowledge, practice, and ideology premised on capitalist growth. By contrast, we direct attention to resourcefulness, shared fates and collective initiation of diverse interventions – collective action for collective gain. In this sense, the paper makes wide-ranging contributions to the field and adds weight to arguments for place-based regional development approaches (Tomaney, Citation2010). More specifically, it adds new dimensions to studies of the interplay of economic and community cultures (Huggins & Thompson, Citation2015), local leadership (Beer et al., Citation2019) and accumulation strategies (Murtagh & Boland, Citation2019), people-centrism (Todes & Turok, Citation2018), environmental justice (Yaka, Citation2019) and sustainable transitions (Bennett et al., Citation2019), and Indigenous resourcefulness (Eversole, Citation2017). The idea of a GRP points to how place-based approaches might be developed and advocated, including via local participation and the cultivation of collectively generated and framed value propositions through which investment choices and decisions can be imagined and enacted. Thinking in terms of GRPs identifies the social collective as a source of agency, responsibility, benefit, and legitimate authority in generating and distributing geographical rents. In these ways, while our case may be unfamiliar to many readers of this journal, its messages transcend the particular.

The paper begins by deriving the notion of the GRP from the rent literature and argues for its relevance as an approach to reinvigorating regional development thought and practice. We map a regional development history of Kaikōura against defining shifts in post-war national development regimes, highlighting the appearance of locally driven development initiatives. The paper focuses on live initiatives to mobilize and enhance place-based resourcefulness, generate geographical rents and build a regionally scaled GRP from current opportunities. We ask what regional economy futures are being assembled, how and by (and for) whom. We argue that a focus on GRPs emphasizes issues of local control of resources and investment processes, collective experimentation and economy-making, and the return of economic rents to place.


Rent is central to capitalist dynamics and is being increasingly reimagined as a core site of struggle in political economy (Christophers, Citation2020; Harvey, Citation2002; Slater, Citation2017). Classical economists differentiated between rent, a premium generated by the special qualities of particular resources, and profit, a return on the application of technology and entrepreneurialism to production (Hudson, Citation2011; Sayer, Citation2015). They saw rent as arising from a variety of spatial and historical advantages, especially those to do with land, resources and infrastructure. Auty and Furlonge (Citation2019, p. 3) define it simply as ‘the surplus revenue after deducting all production costs including a risk-related return on investment’. While largely expunged from mainstream economic analysis in the early 20th century, rent remains concrete, tangible and at the core of value appropriation by propertied interests (Hudson, Citation2011). Critics have recently returned to rent as a concept for highlighting ‘unearned’ incomes derived from unequal opportunities to profit from regulation, market monopoly, preferential access to resources or market failures (Sayer, Citation2015, Citation2020). Others use ‘rent’ to revisibilize the appropriation by a select few of the locational premiums derived from collectively generated cultural, social and technological capital or infrastructure capital, scientific research or social data (Christophers, Citation2020).

In all these cases, rent is associated with dispossession, enclosure of commons, alienation of collective interests by private property and the exercise of monopoly powers over non-replicable assets (Harvey, Citation2002). Rent is thus presented as inefficient, unearned and unjust (Sayer, Citation2015). For neoclassical economists it results from market failure and regulation; for Marxian critics it is exploitation bound up with alienation, enclosure and private property; and for institutional economists, it is a return on public investment appropriated by elites. For Sayer (Citation2020) the failure to distinguish rent from profit misrepresents it as a return to the work of capital and legitimates its appropriation by elites formed around capital (Sayer, Citation2015). This failure has served to disguise the contribution of public enterprise to productivity, legitimate the deregulation and privatization of natural monopolies, delegitimate taxation and public ownership, deflect from the thefts of enclosure, and lock investment into speculation rather than industry. It has directed attention away from the possibilities of place-based assets to generate collective wealth.

The power relations of rent’s appropriation, however, ought not to obscure either its force in organizing political economy or its potential to generate collective economic gain. Rent from collective ownership, organization and investment once opened-up new frontiers of social wealth (Hudson, Citation2011). We make three observations to underpin a strategy to recover rent’s practical and conceptual potential: attention to rent highlights sources of value in place, from land and resources to place-specific configurations of social and physical infrastructure and capital; as a surplus revenue created from careful management of commons or investment in social infrastructure, rent might be appropriated by collective owners and distributed to the collective; and rent is geographical – a return on the special qualities of place, intrinsic or created through investment or regulation (Lewis, Citation2017). Rent is commonly the added return to conducting activities here rather than there. In this sense, rent might (should) be seen as a return to place, but one that is generally appropriated by capital.


We draw on three interrelated concepts for reappraising resources and mobilizing collective action to secure rent as a concept in regional development terms: ‘regional value proposition’ (RVP), development platforms, and regional resourcefulness. An RVP is a strategically formulated calculation of the value to be delivered to regions from producing goods/services in that place. RVPs are founded on community objectives in relation to place-specific social, cultural, institutional, or natural resources that promise distinctiveness, collective capability, or competitive advantages. RVPs presume a capability to organize collectively and shape future outcomes beyond specific transactions. This points to Cooke’s (Citation2012) notion of platform, which refers to an assemblage of economic actors, objects, imagined social futures, and what we would call rent trajectories. The idea centres relational agency, ‘connectivity, ‘collectivity’, the co-production of knowledge, and practice as both objects of analysis and sources of value creation. It has been used to rethink regional development from collective assets and the bottom-up (Eversole, Citation2017). The concept replaces the representational knowledge projects of policy and planning in regional development thinking (Harrison et al., Citation2021) with the active and performative conceptions of assemblage, political projects and enactive knowledge production (Lewis et al., Citation2016).

Building regional development platforms to imagine and materialize RVPs presupposes some idea of resourcefulness as the basis for the geographical rents that are made available for circulation, capability-building and redistribution. The concept of ‘resourcefulness’ develops the idea that the ‘resourceness’ of land or sea is not intrinsic but an ‘assemblage of materialities, relations, technologies and discourses’ (Li, Citation2014, p. 589), such that ‘resources are made by “resourcefulness”’ Tsing (Citation2003, p. 5101). The concept emphasizes the significance of capability understood as an asset for collective practice and transformation. It displaces calculations of growth potential at the heart of development thinking with a more open conception of place-based capability and possibility. We refer to regional resourcefulness to identify the assemblage of resources and capabilities at diverse regional scales.

Putting the three concepts together, we invoke the idea of GRPs and argue for a regional development that actively pursues rent as a collectively generated return to place, its people and environments. Any actualized GRP is a situated configuration of thought, capability, and action for narrating and enacting possible collective futures from resourcefulness. This is a radical divergence from both the growth propositions of neoliberalism’s trickle down and across from private enterprise and the development state’s top-down planning directives. Both abstracted from and invisibilized rent and its collective potential. Instead, the idea of a GRP gives a practical and conceptual form to the possibilities of what Tomaney (Citation2010) labels ‘place-based development’ at a time when scholars and practitioners are looking for new ways to imagine the relationship between resourcefulness and regional futures.


represents regional development in Aotearoa as a field of contested practice across four roughly periodized and broadly differentiable governmental orders within which GRPs might assemble (or be assembled). Drawn from research on regional development histories in Aotearoa (Franklin, Citation1978; Britton et al., Citation1992; Le Heron & Pawson, Citation1996; Dalziel & Saunders, Citation2012; Pawson, Citation2018; Connelly et al., Citation2019; McNeill, Citation2019), identifies four conjunctures of capitalism and state development policy. While notions of the development state (Pike et al., Citation2007), neoliberal state (Peck & Theodore, Citation2015) and new state capitalism (Alami et al., Citation2022; Martin, Citation2021) are well rehearsed in the literature, the notion of a participatory, co-governing capitalism is less well considered (Larner & Craig, Citation2005). The category aims to capture efforts to secure an after-neoliberal political economy, an economy beyond capitalism but one that begins with community and localized value rather than radical alterity or ruins (Marston, Citation2015). It has particular purchase in colonial settings such as Aotearoa where commitments to Indigenous co-governance intersect with wider forms of community participation in resource economy relations (Bargh, Citation2021; Kuokkanen, Citation2019). The first column uses an unfamiliar set of categories of governmental practice to disaggregate orders of political economy so as to emphasize the conditions of possibility they set for GRPs. The categories are designed to accent collective dimensions of producing and appropriating resource economy rents at different moments and thus to reveal rent’s shadowy relational agency. The specific features at work under developmentalism and neoliberalism are familiar in the international literature, but those of the latter two contemporaneous governmental modes are less familiar.

Table 1. Post-war governmental orderings of geographical rent generation in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The interventionist state of post-war regional development was omnipresent in capitalist economy–environment relations – as owner of resources, infrastructure investor, deliverer of public goods and/or economic manager. It produced the regional service town and designed the circuit of taxation and subsidies that enabled the appropriation and redistribution of rents from resource and pastoral economies at the national scale. Nation-state politics prescribed who would get what from state investment in the generation of rents, even as national income accounting obscured our view of them. Directive, top-down processes gave local communities little scope to engage in visioning RVPs or building GRPs. Regional geographers engaged at points in the hierarchy to serve or critique the plan.

Neoliberalism reframed regional development in terms of the time–spaces of competition, private gain and trickle down. Neoliberal states privatized economic and social assets, releasing rents locked up in state control and making them available for appropriation by the wealthy and organized few (Christophers, Citation2020). In the antipodes, regions were reduced to new frontiers for accumulation or abandoned – locations on a flat plain for accumulation (Argent, Citation2017; Lewis et al., Citation2013). Rent was sucked out of regions and their capabilities to resource new GRPs were disassembled. Dismantling the structured scalar hierarchy of bureaucracy went hand in hand with the disappearance of spatial strategies, regional politics and the rationale for regional development (Britton et al., Citation1992; Lewis et al., Citation2013). The questions of how, where and by and for whom rent was generated were rendered unimportant. Regions suffered as competitive advantages reliant on rent created through productive cooperation and a history of public investment were undermined, while the mobility of capital enabled distant others to appropriate the rents.

Neoliberal states have come to operate in different ways as they have been forced to confront these contradictions (Larner et al., Citation2007; Higgins & Larner, Citation2017). The two right-hand columns in attempt to capture two emergent orders ‘after’ both development planning and neoliberalism. is not intended to imply either a simple periodization or a regime-like logic that proclaims a decisive conjuncture of institutions, governmentality, political projects and practice. Rather, we identify looser alignments of interest, aspiration and action so as to flag difference, emergence and possibility alongside conjuncture, trajectory and the work of entrenched powers.

Column 3 points to a present that is not yet fully theorized in regional development terms – the enabling, resetting or new state capitalist regionalism of the smart region, the incubator and notions of inclusive capitalism (Shilon et al., Citation2022). In its regional development aspirations, the Aotearoa state has crossed from neoliberalism to a form of inclusive new state capitalism characterized by enabling interventions and resource economy guardianship akin to what Piketty (Citation2020) describes as a ‘Brahmin’ class alliance between technocrats, liberal intellectual elites and corporate capital. The institutional forms of this project will be familiar to global audiences: leveraging and enabling consultancies, national innovation agencies, regional incubators, smart region policy programmes, and project-based state enabling and investment infrastructure (Morgan, Citation2015; Shilon et al., Citation2022). The regional development forms include, for example, what Veltmeyer and Bowles (Citation2014) term progressive extractivism in which corporate resource economy is linked to wider national interests and global environmental concessions. In Aotearoa, concerns with national interest in natural capital are linked to a resource-based new state capitalist economy as well as ethics of environmentalism and an evaluative framework of four well-beings (Hall, Citation2019; Saunders & Dalziel, Citation2004). The alliance of interests in a national-scale economic development project takes the form of an enabling architecture for managing economy–environment relations to cultivate competitive advantage at different geographical scales (Connelly et al., Citation2019; Pawson, Citation2018).

The fourth column in points to a nascent but potentially transformative political project in Aotearoa, where new state capitalism is evolving alongside new forms of co-governance. This is tied to both Māori economy and local-scale, participatory, and diverse economy initiatives (Scobie & Sturman, Citation2020). While at best emergent or experimental in its participatory forms, its Māori economy forms are increasingly significant, with, for example, over 35% of its commercial ocean-based economy under Māori control (Reid et al., Citation2019). In this way the fourth column foreshadows a conjuncture of multiple collective, experimental, and relational regional initiatives rather than seeking to proclaim a decisively new ordering of political economy . While some are institutionalized many remain located in the more contested and open realm of localized practice. They echo interests in community governance and asset transfer and local accumulation strategies (Cohen et al., Citation2021; Murtagh & Boland, Citation2019) as well as initiatives to enact diverse economy futures (Roelvink et al., Citation2015).

Our argument is that in Aotearoa at least, new practices of political economy are emerging. These directions emphasize collaborative agency and imagining and negotiating collective futures. They are taking form around reimagining resourcefulness, originating RVPs through participatory processes, and collectively assembling GRPs for collective good. This premium relies on generating, appropriating and redistributing economic rents from the local up. As Roelvink et al. (Citation2015), among others, emphasize, encouraging collective action can stimulate projects that generate social wealth and return surplus to the collective that produces value. In Aotearoa, such initiatives are bound up with the Treaty of Waitangi Settlement process and tied to the increasingly defining presence of Māori economy (Amoamo et al., Citation2018; Bargh, Citation2011, Citation2021; Scobie & Sturman, Citation2020).


The Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti) is Aotearoa’s founding document – an agreement between Māori chiefs and the British Crown. Decades of breaches by successive governments and political action from Māori led to the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975. The Tribunal has stewarded a settlement process that has returned illegally alienated assets to Māori since the mid-1990s, including large tracts of land and significant natural resources. This process is pivotal to any account of contemporary regional development. It underpins the increasingly central role played by Māori authorities and economic actors in economic development, as well as the significance of Māori economy in terms of size, resource base and different ways of practising capitalism. It also highlights contemporary commitments to and experiments with co-management and co-governance of resources with Māori, which are transforming public management. Treaty Partnership demands new regional development practices, institutions, and statecraft, as well as signalling the powerful presence of Māori economy actors (Scobie & Sturman, Citation2020; Vunibola et al., Citation2022).

Treaty considerations are entrenched at every level of government and in all operational processes of state agencies and the legal, scientific, financial, and technical apparatus of nation. Māori have an institutionalized place in all public–private relations, fracturing and reconfiguring them into triadic state–iwi–capital relations. With iwi regionally centred, the governance of resource economy is increasingly a question of Māori interests, aspirations and investments. Māori are assembling resource economies according to Māori socio-cultural and environmental ethics – extending their asset wealth and securing greater sovereignty over land and sea. Māori economy is very much regional development in practice, and vice versa. It involves mobilizing intergenerational political and economic projects that centre intergenerational collective gains and environmental restoration and revitalization (Makey & Awatere, Citation2018).

Kaikōura is an important centre in the rohe (lands) of South Island iwi, Ngāi Tahu, which has built a large and successful economy from its settlement process (Reid & Rout, Citation2018). It has brought significant inshore and coastal commons under Māori control and the sway of traditional environmental management protocols. Much of this was achieved through the creation of customary protected areas (CPAs). Māori society and economy are built bottom-up from whānau (family) to hapū (place-based extended family units), and iwi (tribal groups), with scales of authority and practice cross-cutting conceptions and institutions of locality and region. CPAs were established for every marae, or centre of whānau and hapū social and economic life. Such spaces of economic control have redefined regional resourcefulness in terms of decolonizing political projects, environmental management of tribal lands and waters, and place-based knowledge and practices, and have reworked the possibilities of resource use (Bargh, Citation2014). They have empowered Māori authorities such as Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura, the representative organization of the hapū and whānau of the Kaikōura region, to reimagine and renegotiate regional futures (Hikuroa et al., Citation2020).


Kaikōura is an ideal setting in which to investigate the tentative, incremental, uncertain and in-the-making nature of regional development projects. While formally a territorial local authority nested within the Canterbury region for regional economic development and environmental management policy purposes, Kaikōura is effectively a small rural region with strong localist ethics. Many are set through the involvement in regional development questions of the local hapū of Ngāi Tahu, which has been proactive in the region post-settlement. From 2017 to 2020 we conducted research in Kaikōura alongside local economic actors. The research aimed to encourage investment in sustainable marine activities and foster redevelopment efforts after a major earthquake in 2016. We interpreted the brief as an opportunity to highlight and encourage place-based development initiatives that sought to assemble regional resourcefulness for collective gain. We designed a project to co-develop RVPs with local businesses, community leaders, and local authorities. This project saw us visit Kaikōura on five occasions, meeting with local businesses, Kaikōura District Council (KDC) officials and community organizations.

Much of our work centred on Te Korowai o te Tai Marokura (TKoTM), a community-based organization with formal responsibilities for environmental stewardship. We asked questions about economic development practices, value propositions, earthquake recovery initiatives and local participation in regional development. The interviews generated rich and productive research conversations that deepened insights drawn from publicly available documentary evidence and knowledge built up from longer term field-based teaching in the region, which provided us access to Kaikōura’s social networks. We engaged further with local community actors by presenting material from our research to TKoTM and to a community meeting. We have discussed the substance of this paper and its implications with TKoTM and are involved in ongoing conversations about the opportunities it may open for reassembling elements of the emerging GRP.


Development initiatives in the 1990s and 2000s were unambiguously community, iwi and hapū led, with much economic growth-driven by Māori economic entities. The earthquake prompted aggressive state interventions in recovery and infrastructural upgrading, introducing significant external capital to the mix and attracting new attention from external interests. The last 25 years have seen a series of regional development initiatives (). Each has been launched against Kaikōura’s enduring but changing role as a rural/regional centre in Aotearoa’s resource and pastoral economies (Pawson, Citation2018) and its location as a key transit point on the main national highway. We identify five overlapping sets of investment initiatives and associated institutional framings and present them as GRPs that have been creatively configured by multiple actors in different economic relations. Each encompasses a revisioning of regional resourcefulness founded on different geographical scales, narratives of place, RVPs, stocks of financial, natural, and social capital, and emergent economic realities and opportunities. Each is built on a platform of rent generation. In what follows, we introduce these GRPs, outline their underlying RVPs and projects of resourcefulness, and examine how they have been assembled. We highlight the work of collective futuring and action.

Table 2. Mobilizing geographical rent platforms (GRPs) in Kaikōura, 1970–2020.


TKoTM was established in 2002 to steward local environments. The steps it took were overtly bottom up with a clear sense of what the preconditions of making and localizing value should be. It describes its work as leading ‘the effort to enhance the role of local leadership to achieve a flourishing, rich and healthy environment  …  [that will] sustain the needs of present and future generations’. TKoTM lists its most significant work as the formalization of the Kaikōura Marine Strategy (KMS) in 2012, which strengthened the marine commons and local control over them. Underpinned by support from Ngāi Tahu, the KMS prefigured an Act of Parliament that established CPAs and marine protected areas, including the Kaikōura Whale Sanctuary and Hikurangi Marine Reserve, which covers feeding grounds for Kaikōura’s whale and dolphin populations. TKoTM’s volunteer representatives serve on the Kaikōura Marine Guardians group that advises government ministers on the administration of the Reserves, while it is also bound into the aspirations and political force of Ngāi Tahu, whose members are prominent figures and office holders within TKoTM.

TKoTM was set the challenge of producing a localized management and governance model for the reserves (Le Heron et al., Citation2019). It developed a model of environmental stewardship that inverts conventional top-down power relations over goal setting and imposes a collective vision on regional development. Its model represents a significant regional development resource in itself. TKoTM also seeks regional development grants and research funding, produces and disseminates community information, and represents community interests and concerns to Council and government. Alongside Ngāi Tahu, TKoTM brokers political and economic alliances between iwi, community groups and government agencies. It has used its stewardship over the region’s marine reserves to reconfigure relations among capital, state, iwi and community into GRPs founded on collective interests rather than private capital accumulation. It is a formative force in imagining and enacting regional futures.

At a time when national resource economy settings privilege export-driven commodity production, TKoTM has held fast to ethical coordinates that transcend private property. Its work remains grounded firmly in the recognition that resource commons are held in trust by multiple publics (past, present and future) – from the community to iwi and nation. At the core of its approach lie commitments to ‘perpetuating the mauri and wairua [life force and spirit]’ of the area. Its central development narrative of ‘gifts and gains’ has displaced the neoclassical notion of ‘trade-offs’ as a realizable economic ethic for a radically different environmental management of competing uses (e.g., paua gathering, fishing and marine mammal tourism). Securing its vision has demanded TKoTM adopt a highly strategic politics grounded in carefully cultivated relationships with Ngāi Tahu, government agencies and other community organizations. Capitalism may be everywhere, but TKoTM’s politics and ethics allow it to treat capital as an external resource brought to the commons in discrete initiatives where relations among value, values and natures are contestable. The example highlights wider notions of the resourcefulness necessary to secure a successful, community-led GRP – notably political agility, place-centred imagination and ethics of responsibility.


Kaikōura enjoys rich natural resources: its location on State Highway 1, majestic mountains and coastline, vineyards to the north and south, flourishing shellfish beds, accessible seal colonies, and the Kaikōura Canyon that attracts whales and dolphins. Whale Watch Kaikōura (WWK) is a Māori-owned and -operated tourism venture based around the sperm whale population that feeds on the edges of the Canyon has taken full advantage to build a regional ecotourism industry. In 2019, Kaikōura attracted 185,000 overnight visitors (excluding holiday homes and day visitors) who spent an estimated NZ$120 million in a district of 4000 permanent residents.

Established to foster employment opportunities for local Māori in a declining region, WWK is now nationally celebrated and globally recognized for responsible tourism. It is a poster child nationally for efforts to integrate ecotourism and Māori economy. Self-regulating and protected by community endorsed monopoly rights to provide whale watching tours, WWK has led an ecotourism development trajectory that contributed 65% of all economic growth in the region from 2001 until the earthquake. WWK’s website outlines a suite of Te Ao Māori values that enrich the more established five ‘Cs’ of ecotourism (customer, company, community, conservation and culture) with ethics grounded in environmental stewardship (Reid et al., Citation2019). On the ground, it has worked closely with TKoTM and Ngāi Tahu to assemble the regional resourcefulness bound up in natural advantage, collective management of the marine commons, and Māori economy ethics and capital into a regional ecotourism GRP; and to mediate many of the relationships with international tourism operators, as well as iwi–community–government–business relations, and those between tourism and the environment.


The 2016 earthquake destroyed much of Kaikōura’s physical infrastructure, closing road and rail transport through the region and destroying its wharf. Tourism was brought to a sudden and complete halt stop. The seabed rose by up to 5 m in places, bringing shellfish operations to a close. Restaurants and shops shut. The resilience of social institutions and community organizations was severely tested (Cradock-Henry et al., Citation2019) and the underpinning regional resourcefulness of existing GRPs was undermined.

In late December 2016, government established the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery organization (NCTIR) to rebuild infrastructure and get goods and people moving through the region again. NCTIR was neither corporation nor government authority but operated as a network of contractors and ministry contracts. It moved swiftly to manage the recovery effort, backed by broad-ranging delegated powers. Approvals to deviate from usual resource management protocols and new authorities such as compulsory purchase of property effectively restored the directive state for a period, albeit in networked form and led by private enterprise.

The recovery effort did much to strengthen community institutions and reanimate economic resourcefulness as well as rebuild physical infrastructure. Local labour was hired wherever possible and paid a premium to foster morale and sustain positive relations with the community. Together with the cadre of geologists, ecologists and social scientists who arrived to research the earthquake, recovery workers provided demand for retailers and community dynamism. NCTIR built a workers’ village for those temporary workers it had to attract from elsewhere and sought to foster positive relationships with local businesses, regional government authorities, TKoTM, and Ngāi Tahu. Alongside TKoTM and the KDC it organized local restaurants into a collective to supply meals for workers at the workers’ village, offering security of demand for food suppliers who could then afford to stay open. In effect, NCTIR led an infrastructure-based regional development programme.

Those involved in this activity drew on the community-based resourcefulness assembled by TKoTM, which became a focus for community life, a conduit to external agencies, and a pivotal agency in many recovery initiatives. It mediated in contests over NCTIR’s decisions to do with rerouting train tracks and siting new walkways and cycleways, which were in some cases contentious. TKoTM also connected researchers to local people, places and concerns, ensuring research was co-developed with local communities and aligned with its own foundational vision. By mid-2019 NCTIR had largely completed its recovery initiatives, leaving Kaikōura with significantly improved physical infrastructure, as well as enhanced social capital and ecotourism potential.


With the roads open, tourist numbers bounced back, albeit into a region marked by a reconfigured resourcefulness. Kaikōura is now gripped by new ideas, aspirations and external connections. Its new visibility has attracted increased domestic tourism, unleashing new external connections, tourism narratives, audiences to address and RVPs. Both TKoTM and Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura are more fully positioned as development agencies and are jostling for prominence among a wider set of development agencies, from the local government to real estate and tourism capital. There are multiple visions in play and directions are contested.

TKoTM is working to encourage a future economy that delivers on its foundational vision to serve the community and support the environment. It is working closely with Te Rūnanga on the reopening of local fisheries and has forged strong connections with ‘Future Kaikōura’, the newly formed local business association (Vaughan, personal communication, 2019). It has also applied for research funding to support an RVP centred on food (sea and land based) and eco-educational tourism. The proposition combines elements of the ‘community-based resource economy’ and small to medium-sized ‘enterprise-driven eco-tourism’ GRPs. TKoTM is also developing a Charter Fishers Code of Conduct and new regional positions on national environmental concerns such as dolphin conservation.

Global and local exposure heightened interest from external investors, who from 2018 to 2020 moved to take advantage of the revamped infrastructure and tourism revival. A new hotel has been built to support a scaled-up, year-round and more fully packaged tourism. A new real estate economy has begun to develop as property developers break up rural holdings for sale to amenity migrants and look for opportunities to redevelop the central retail and restaurant precinct (Savills, Citation2018). The KDC is committed to this vision (KDC 2020). It faces significant and longstanding financial issues associated with maintaining infrastructure in a small and isolated settlement, as well as servicing debts from building new chambers in 2015. Rates incomes from property development offer a lifeline. Supported by the infrastructure upgrade and increased visibility created by the earthquake, scaled-up tourism and amenity real estate comprise an RVP centred on external rent-seeking capital but blind to questions of distribution, deaf to local voice, and ignorant of geographical rent.

Steering a path between these two visions, regional tourism organization ‘Destination Kaikōura promotes a place-specific tourism and an amenity economy that balances locally owned high value ecotourism and community-specific concerns about volume-based activities. Dominated by tourism operators whose interests lie in generating and capturing rents locally (albeit individually) by fostering and protecting the distinctiveness values of place, it advocates a regional development centred on maintaining an uneasy balance between high-value and high-volume tourism. Te Rūnanga, meanwhile, has resource-based marine economy development aspirations as well as similar tourism interests. Firmly anchored in a very long-term GRP founded on place and its ecological, spiritual, cultural and livelihood values, its shorter term strategic interests lie somewhere between the community-centric visions of TKoTM and KDC’s strategies.

There are thus multiple competing initiatives and visions of Kaikōura’s future in play, each with a different distributional formula for place-based rent generation. These differing visions were crystallized and pitched into direct competition in Kaikōura’s bid for funding under the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) in 2018–19. The first significant regional development funding package since the early 1980s (Connelly et al., Citation2019), the PGF focused attention on sustainable development, infrastructure, inclusive community development, and Māori economy. The PGF has revitalized regional economic development imaginaries across Aotearoa. Initially (Phase 1), the PGF funded multiple, diverse, community-instigated cultural, social and economic projects with little requirement that they demonstrate links to formal or economic development goals or evaluative frameworks. The scheme, which called on communities to propose projects, added momentum to Kaikōura’s recovery initiatives as post-earthquake VPs began to take shape. Later, the openness of this social collectivist impulse gave way to a more formalized framework as new rules decreed that all projects be framed and evaluated in competitive cost–benefit terms. With Kaikōura caught up in earthquake recovery initiatives, it largely missed the first, more open phase of project generation, leaving local actors to apply under the more formal and economized later phases of the programme. Three projects were proposed and the KDC applied for funding to undertake a feasibility analysis, which was conducted by an external economic consultant overseen by the Canterbury Development Corporation (CDC), the wider region’s economic development agency.

TKoTM put together the most ambitious proposal, a Marine Centre of Excellence, which aimed to combine research and education facilities with a paua hatchery, an aquarium and sustainable seafood harvesting initiatives. The proposal envisaged a GRP that stewarded local ecologies, captured rents locally, and ensured intergenerational prosperity and security; around which it assembled Māori fisheries enterprises, TKoTM, external education and research providers, established tourism interests and external capital (an international Aquarium designer/curator). The second proposal involved the extension of the post-earthquake wharf rebuild and related facilities to service marine tourism, commercial fisheries and cruise liner visits. Grounded in orthodox infrastructure-led regional development thinking it was linked in turn to a more generic tourism through an aligned redevelopment of the old harbour area (Wakatu Quay) into a commercial, retail and hospitality hub to support the new hotel and marine mammal tourism. It was supported by established tourism interests, including Ngāi Tahu who were named as potential investors. The third project was an upgrade of the airport to support newly envisaged commuting connections, amenity migration and exclusive tourism.

Ultimately, the CDC supported the marina–harbour development, which fitted neatly into a standard economic feasibility framework. It could be shown to offer jobs and attract investment in expected ways, thus meeting funding criteria set by the PGF. In early 2020, the proposal resulted in grants to support the Wakatu Quay development and further feasibility work on the new harbour project. Kaikōura’s future became reframed within a standard tourism and resource economy development model. External regional development expertise won out over collective capabilities, novel visions of resourcefulness and a creative ecologically based GRP.


What then should we make of Kaikōura’s recent regional development history recorded in ? We portray this history as a succession of unfolding development initiatives. These initiatives are emergent and contingent on historical accident, inter- and extra-regional relations, relations with other initiatives, the historical trajectories of co-governance, unexpected policy shifts, and much else. The initiators have included social collectives, who have sought to revitalize the commons and assemble opportunities and geographical rents into collective projects, intergenerational livelihoods, and enhanced guardianship of the land and sea that give rise to the rents. Interventions have included taking back marine commons lost under alienation processes, entrepreneurial investment in globalizing economy, and strategic investments in capability-building, collective imagining and political action. Projects have drawn heavily on state institutions and funds, but we argue that they are ‘doing’ place-based regional development outside of many strictures of standard regional development theory, policy, and practice. The regional development we describe is more open than is often imagined. It is envisioned, assembled, and enacted by diverse actors, each of whom has multiple, and often conflicting, agendas and overlapping responsibilities. The current conjuncture is no different.

Our account of the PGF initiative should be read as an ongoing struggle among multiple and tightly entangled actors over competing interpretations of regional resourcefulness rather than the ultimate victory of neoliberal visions of regional development over social collectivism. This struggle to imagineer, broker and assemble regional futures in Kaikōura is centred on competing value propositions and tangible rent-generating projects. The four orderings or policy modes laid out in are all in play in this struggle, but we can identify the emergence of a particular amalgam of collectivist co-governance and new state capitalism that articulates each of the GRPs in . At its core, these GRPs are becoming assembled around a Māori resource economy core. The marina and harbour are some distance from being community projects but their originating pathways are still products of collaborative processes and they rely on Ngāi Tahu support. Ngāi Tahu brings social collectivist visions and commitments to environmental values and intergenerational community to its powerful voice in local politics, its internal collectivist decision-making, and its financial investment in each of the competing RVPs. By brokering and assembling elements from competing visions into a GRP, it is enacting locally driven regional rent propositions. TKoTM’s proposal put external investment capital directly at the service of local visions and environmental regeneration. While the proposal was not funded, TKoTM remains in close conversation with Ngāi Tahu over regional futures and the nature of the Wakatu Quay development, and continues to support ecotourism initiatives. Its vision of a paua hatchery has resurfaced as a COVID recovery project.

We read the Kaikōura case as a story of collective assembling and enactment of unfolding possibilities across multiple organizational, economic, spatial, and social scales. It tells us that geographical rent is material and rich with potentiality, contest over rents is ongoing, and other futures are possible. Any emergence of social collectivist projects must be struggled over and enacted. It also confirms that the different governmental orderings of geographical rent generation in Aotearoa are neither neatly bounded temporally or substantively. Rather, along with the political projects that shape them, they overlap and are related in often complex alignments. COVID-19 is again reconfiguring opportunity sets and their underpinning relations. The collapse of international tourism has refocused attention on who appropriates geographical rents and under what conditions as the community moves again to reassemble and enact credible alternative economic futures in the face of a new external shock. Different imaginaries of the region’s future and material interests are jostling to define new alignments. Regional development, we would argue from this case, is in-the-making. But what can we add to this familiar line of thought?


The paper develops two central arguments. First, focusing attention on rent as geographical rent opens up the possibility of imagining and enacting local resourcefulness for collectively visioned and delivered economic futures. It provides a different framework for identifying and making choices. This starts with recognizing that place is a (the) source of rents and that rent is thus a return to place. This insight invites the moral economy stance that rents thereby ‘belong’ to the communities and environments that create them, which in turn invites a place-based approach to regional development and one that is centred on local participation in decision-making and the capture of rents in place. The Kaikōura case exemplifies this point. TKoTM’s development imaginaries enact the idea of a collective GRP and point to its potency for framing a regional development agenda. Yet at the same time, the process and findings of the PGF feasibility study reveal the persistence of business-as-usual framings of resource management and development investment that ignore collectivism and devalue efforts to capture rents in place.

Second, the idea of a GRP focuses attention on producing and capturing geographical rents in place through strategic collective action. It opens regional development thought and practice to enhanced local participation and intergenerational initiatives. The juxtaposition of the regional and the local here is deliberate and important. Not only are their boundaries a vexed question (Pike et al., Citation2007), but the blurred lines emphasize the importance of agency and the possibility of local participation in regional development. The localness of the actors involved, the decision-making moments, and the resourcefulness at stake confirm that the region is at least in part an assemblage of locals (Lewis et al., Citation2013).

To conclude, we ask what these arguments offer regional studies as a field of theoretical and applied scholarship. Our first answer and contribution to the field, is a set of first-order propositions for how to imagine and practice regional development in resource regions using a conceptual and methodological grammar that transcends the easy progress narratives and dualisms of the modern development state (private–public, initiator–stakeholder, community–industry):

  • Regional development is a question of strategically and tactically assembling different entanglements of interests, agencies, value propositions, and diverse resources into collective GRP(s).

  • Vital and effective community actors are crucial resources and assemblers of experiments, projects, and contested visions into resourcefulness for place-based regional development.

  • States remain important sources of investment funding, value propositions, and stabilizing interventions to enhance and enact regional resourcefulness.

  • Replacing the abstract knowledge categories of regional development with a focus on practices and contests sharpens understandings of the relations between value and power, invites enactive research, and presents regional futures as vital and open.

  • Working with local actors to reappraise resources, analyse potentialities and pitfalls, assemble resourcefulness, and co-develop GRPs presents a generative way of theorizing and practising place-based regional development.

  • If capitalism is an exercise in rent production, then regional development under capitalism is an exercise in generating rents in regions for their benefit, and its moral economy must be to generate and return geographical rent to place.

This set of propositions reframes regional development as a jostling set of trajectories and initiatives in the making, destabilizing it as an established political ontology. Instead, they point to the value of a multiplicity of place-based approaches to imagining and enacting regional futures. In so doing, our second contribution is to affirm the lessons of that engaging in place-based development must involve at least two decisive moves to transition diverse collectivities towards just futures. First, it must recognize and embrace the potentialities of agency by attending to the assembling work performed by a host of actors. Recognizing and engaging in enactive research with local actors and policy intermediaries is a crucial first step. Second, it must forge a more creative and generative conceptual armoury. In this paper, we privilege the notions of resourcefulness, platforms, and geographical rent.

Third, we theorize GRPs as enactive assemblages of regional resourcefulness and value propositions in place. As a conceptual tool the GRP foregrounds the questions of what is being assembled into regional development, how, and by and for whom. It directs attention to a place-based politics of collective economy, action, and possibility – a moral economy of place in which social relations of production and distribution cohere around the question of who benefits as well as the challenges of generating livelihoods, well-being and wealth in place for place (understood as community in environment – future, past and present). As a challenge to regional development as political ontology, GRPs shift attention from universal trickle-down policies to identifying and initiating opportunities to assemble collectively ‘owned’ projects. The conception of regional futures-making that emerges is experimental, vital, and open. Just as rent is neither profit nor anomaly, we understand regional development to be neither regional nor development as understood through the fixed categories of an earlier era.

Finally, our case matters in and of itself as an example of place-based development (Beer et al., Citation2020). It demonstrates the potential of embracing the specificities of any particular place in imagining and enacting economic futures. We present this case not just as another example of place-based development, but of the possibilities for distinctive imagination and mobilization of regional resourcefulness in any setting where local groups understand the object of development to be the generation and distribution of geographical rents. In this way, we radically localize notions of regional development and extend Markey et al. (Citation2015) emphasis on place-based identity as a force for regionalism and regional becoming to the processes of development itself. Regional development possibilities are not only place-based but a question of what local people make of them. Exploring these alignments in place is a precondition for engaging with economic subjects and investment and institutional dynamics on new terms. This challenge is always both conceptual and rooted in efforts to make positive change. In times of crisis (earthquakes, COVID, etc.), the challenge is accentuated, as are the responsibilities and opportunities. Questions of who appropriates geographical rents and under what conditions are central.

Wrapping up, the Kaikōura case highlights the potential of local actors in assembling regional resourcefulness and value propositions, stewarding environments, and negotiating access to external institutions and investment funds. Economic geographers have been slow to recognize the full diversity of such grounded experiments in both applied and theoretical terms. Our case study identifies three specific spaces in which they might make more compelling interventions: the promise of Indigenous treaty settlements, which are enhancing resourcefulness for regional development and stimulating new GRPs (Howitt, Citation2020); the challenge of assembling economy differently in the context of just transitions (Bennett et al., Citation2019); and engaging directly with local leaders in studying and enacting place-based development (Beer et al., Citation2019; Tomaney, Citation2010). Each is a potential direction for future research where the concept of geographical rent promises to be generative. Further, while we do not explore geographical rent in relation to many of the core themes of regional studies in heavily populated Northern industrial regions, the concept and what it suggests for diverse forms of political economy in thought and practice may inspire new regional studies.


No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

Additional information


This study was supported by the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment, Sustainable Seas Science Challenge, New Zealand [contract number C01X1515].


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