Parks provide essential services from cradle to grave and need to be reserved decades ahead of use. They provide for a multitude of conservation, heritage, health, recreation, sport and economic benefits as seen in the thousands of playgrounds to the 50-odd cemeteries in Auckland.
As the private back yard vanishes, public green space in Auckland will become more important. This was highlighted in the Auckland Council's Parks and Open Spaces Strategic Action Plan 2013. However, the devil is in the detail and this is identified in the new Open Space Provision Policy 2016.
This, policy, rushed through local boards, sets standards on park areas to be provided in new developments. For example, a basic neighbourhood park of 0.3ha will be 400m to 600m, or a five-to-seven-minute walk, from a residence.
In many areas of Auckland these standards will not be achieved, mainly because little funding is available to local boards to purchase neighbourhood and pocket parks.
Few standards have been set for regional parks, conservation and heritage areas, which are also an important part of the Auckland parks system. Parks therefore become a casualty of the high land prices.
In addition it is hard to see how Department of Conservation parks and volcanic cones are to be integrated into the greater parks system. Volcanic cones will rightfully become heritage and conservation parks under the Maunga Authority and access will be restricted. This may place pressure on other local parks for wider recreation use.
To make matters worse, the independent hearings panel on the Unitary Plan said; "The panel accepts that open space will be under greater pressure from a growing and more dense Auckland, and that as a result open space will need to be multifunctional". How "multifunction" is interpreted is unknown and is being left to the hard-working park officers to report to the multitude of governing agencies and committees looking after parks.
Is a stage being set for conflict without a discussion of the social impacts and costs of crowding more people into parks?
The pressure coming on our coast and parks was illustrated to me this summer at remote Anawhata. This wilderness within the regional parks network had car parks overflowing and cars lined up along the narrow road. The council even had to put up signs to stop public parking overflowing into private land.
These environmental and park-use pressures will put greater demands on the ratepayer dollar even in a remote place in the Waitakere Ranges.
To deal with future parks, the machinery of council is creating green links and path programmes linking streets and existing parks. But for this to happen park planning needs to be better integrated with transport planning as streets become the new recreation and play space.
Treasury and DoC are also responsible because parks and their economic importance are not yet fully considered part of the national formal infrastructure programme. Urgency is needed for the National Policy Statement to put greater priority on parks as well as to review the old Reserves Act.
Both need to reflect the modern role of parks in providing protected area management, health benefits, recreation, ranger and volunteer services.
It appears future generations may be living in "park poverty" unless there is a greater attention to park provision and management.
Public officials, both elected and staff, need to prepare for more citizen groups to champion access to beaches, parks and local green spaces. On the other hand, if citizens become involved in the planning and management challenges it will help everyone ensure we continue to have easy, accessible public open spaces.