In the final part of the Herald's French Connection series, Jamie Morton looks at how Auckland can unlock more green spaces in the city.

Auckland's distinctly pink Lightpath cycleway has been celebrated around the world as a tour de force of urban architecture.

University of Auckland ecologist Dr Margaret Stanley disagrees.

"It's a lost opportunity," she says.

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"You're just separating people from the environment."

Stanley - who would have much preferred a design like New York's High Line, a 2.3km-long, foliage-laden "linear park" built from a stretch of disused railroad - saw the design as symptomatic of what she considers a detachment from nature.

Auckland has a stunning array of regional parks on its back doorstep, yet recent research has suggested the knowledge, confidence and ability of city-dwellers to enjoy simple things such as camping and tramping was dropping.

Yet research has shown that trees can benefit us in more ways than we can imagine.

Their very presence has been shown to improve the health of pregnant women, speed up recovery times among hospital patients and cut the use of anti-depressants.

They reduce stormwater run-off affecting our harbours and suck hundreds of tonnes of pollution from the environment each year.

On average, about 85,000 trees are planted each year on Auckland's regional park network, helping remove an estimated 956 kilotonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide.

Clark Bush Track in the Waitakere Ranges. Planting more forestry and green corridors could help sequester Auckland's emissions, amid many other benefits. Photo / File
Clark Bush Track in the Waitakere Ranges. Planting more forestry and green corridors could help sequester Auckland's emissions, amid many other benefits. Photo / File

And last month, Auckland mayor Phil Goff launched Million Trees, a programme that would plant a million mainly native trees and shrubs across the region over three years.

By 2040, Auckland Council wants to increase carbon sequestration rate by 50 per cent through planting new ecological corridors.

Yet Stanley is concerned for the welfare of trees in Auckland's concrete jungle, particularly since the removal of general tree protection from urban areas that came with Resource Management Act reforms.

Sixty-three per cent of urban forest in the Auckland isthmus lies upon private land - and just 15 per cent of that is protected through the notable tree schedule.

Auckland Council expects more than 400,000 new dwellings will have to be built in the next 30 years to cope with a further million residents, with between 60 to 70 per cent of them to be located within the urban area as apartments, infill housing and town houses.

This would mean some public open spaces would have to be used more intensively, as residents used local parks, streets or squares for activities that may have traditionally occurred in the suburban backyard.

New parks would need to be acquired, existing parks would have to upgraded and our streets would become an integral part of Auckland's open space network.

Auckland Council has set out a strategy to manage this growth while preserving and enhancing green spaces - including greenways plans for all local board areas - but Stanley fears intensification would inevitably lead to a major loss in urban forest.

Paris' efforts showed the city has been heading the other way.

While the densely developed French capital holds more than 400 municipal parklands and gardens, making it one of the most wooded capitals in Europe, this doesn't compare to the abundance of nature Auckland has in its 40,000ha of regional parkland and myriad smaller spaces.

A hot summer day sees its Luxembourg Garden, one of its few large inner-city major parks, crammed with Parisians.

Paris' Luxembourg Garden is one of the city's few central large green spaces. Photo / 123RF
Paris' Luxembourg Garden is one of the city's few central large green spaces. Photo / 123RF

But the French city has been exploring clever new ways to green itself.

This year it passed a law that meant anyone could plant flowers, vegetables, fruit and other plants on the walls, fences and rooftops of their workplaces and homes.

University of Auckland ecologist Dr Margaret Stanley. Photo / Supplied
University of Auckland ecologist Dr Margaret Stanley. Photo / Supplied

Parisians have taken to the idea, transforming their properties into gardens.

By 2020, by which time Paris wants to have cut greenhouse gas emissions by a quarter, mayor Anne Hidalgo wants to have created 100ha of these new "living walls" and green roofs.

It was something French lawmakers even considered becoming compulsory before the legislation was scrapped by France's former Government.

Conceptual designs that came out of the 2050 Paris Smart City project - imagining a Paris producing 75 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions - show a science fiction-like world of honeycomb apartment blocks that double as vertical forests.

The vertical green wall at BHV Homme in Paris. Photo / Supplied / Creative Commons
The vertical green wall at BHV Homme in Paris. Photo / Supplied / Creative Commons

It demonstrated how even built-up cities could still act as hotspots for nature - and how a remarkable number of species lived among our urban environment.

One Auckland study found 982 different beetle species in Lynfield parks and reserves.

But in our city, said Stanley, greenery was under pressure and vegetation corridors that helped plants and animals to move through the landscape were being lost.

As native fungi and insects were often host-specific to native plants - and native birds also often preferentially fed on native plants - it was more than just trees that we lost.

Frustratingly, trees lost to development were too often replaced with weedy palms or low-maintenance shrubs, Stanley said, although native planting guidelines had been factored into the city's strategy.

Although there were efforts around the city to introduce more greenery, from pop-up parks to the North-West Wildlink project, which has been building a green bridge between the Waitakeres and the gulf islands for a decade, Stanley has argued for more action.

That included rates rebates for properties with large trees, more control of weeds and pests and, of course, more awareness.

Auckland's current network of parks and green spaces. Photo / Auckland Council
Auckland's current network of parks and green spaces. Photo / Auckland Council

Could the non-playing areas of golf courses - covering 943ha in Auckland - have more biodiversity and trees for sequestering carbon?

Do we really need mown berms and can these be planted out as they are in other countries, such as Australia?

"Planting berms could help with sequestering carbon, stops emissions and pollutants from lawnmowers, saves water in summer, and encourages biodiversity such as pollinators.

Should Auckland be planting its berms? Paris residents are being urged to plant out their walls, roofs and fences. Photo / File
Should Auckland be planting its berms? Paris residents are being urged to plant out their walls, roofs and fences. Photo / File

"Could the edges of playing fields be planted out? Are playgrounds sterile or do they have plantings? How about our rail corridors? These are mostly weedy at the moment.

"These extra trees would help with biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and human physical and mental health.

"The benefits we gain far outweigh any maintenance requirements."

And if Auckland couldn't recreate brand new pieces of forest in the city because of intensification, we needed to get better at creating spaces for mixed purposes, just as Paris was now doing, she said.

"We obviously can't keep building out and we do have to get used to the idea of living in apartments and building up: but there are better ways of doing it and I think landscaping is often left as a special extra at the end, rather than integrated into the building plans."

Auckland Council sustainability manager John Mauro saw the space as "potentially huge".

"We're just starting to undertake an approach to what our urban forest looks like - comparing data and seeing trends and considering a strategic approach moving forward."

He expected the topic to be raised at council committee next month.

Making Auckland green again

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Andrea Reid has been leading a project called Pollinator Paths that aims to create green corridors or spaces for pollinating species to move across Auckland.

They're called pollinator pathways - and amid the concrete jungle of urban Auckland they might get mistaken for an ugly, overgrown patch of scrub.

But a young landscape architect wants to see more of these refuges for nature around the isthmus, at a time many of our green spaces are being swallowed up by increasing development.

To keep our ecosystems healthy, pollinating species such as bees, birds, butterflies and lizards need planted corridors that allow them to move about the city.

Our best-known example is the joint North-West Wildlink project, which links habitats and communities from the Waitakere Ranges in the west to the Hauraki Gulf Islands in the east.

Andrea Reid is trying to create her own network, starting with Grey Lynn's Hakanoa Reserve, which locals helped her make a more suitable habitat for species.

Her Pollinator Paths effort ultimately aims to build a natural bridge from Grey Lynn Park to the Cox's Bay Reserve.

It won't be easy; residents would have to be encouraged to grow out their berms, and managers of infrastructure and transport corridors would also need to persuaded to allow their sites to be planted.

Andrea Reid has been leading a project called Pollinator Paths that aims to create green corridors or spaces for pollinating species to move across Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Andrea Reid has been leading a project called Pollinator Paths that aims to create green corridors or spaces for pollinating species to move across Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"Generally it comes down to what we can push for, what we can get grants for, and what we have enough time to design."

But Reid was heartened to see some effort by agencies such as the NZ Transport Agency, which recently published new landscape and visual assessment guidelines.

She praised Paris for greening its buildings and facades - but hoped Auckland would never get to the point where that became a necessity here.

"[Paris has] decided they need those areas because they are so deficient, but here we've got so much space that we can fit an actual park or change our streetscapes.

"But we need to be really careful we don't lose the places we have and forget that we're so lucky."

THE SERIES
Tuesday Making Auckland green again
Wednesday: Building greener
Yesterday: Moving greener
Today: Boosting our greenery

Jamie Morton was hosted in Paris by the French Government.