Auckland consistently ranks highly in lists of the world's best cities but is never number one. So what would it take to turn Auckland into a first-class city? This week the Herald continues its 10-day series examining some of the biggest hurdles Auckland faces, from housing and transport to entertainment and education. We look at what we are doing, what we need to do, and why Auckland's success matters to the rest of the country . In part nine of the series we look at what Auckland community members are doing to improve the city.

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WORLD CLASS AUCKLAND - SERIES OVERVIEW

An environmental group fears a "chainsaw massacre" will fall upon Auckland's dwindling number of urban trees if more protection isn't urgently put in place.

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But Auckland Council says changes made to the Resource Management Act (RMA) two years ago has been stopping it from re-introducing general tree protection removed with the amendments.

A schedule in the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan would afford protection for about 15 per cent of all urban trees, and concentrated on protecting notable (scheduled) trees, trees on the coast and near streams and Significant Ecological Areas.

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Trees in the rural areas, Hauraki Gulf islands, streets and parks would still have general protection after the legislative RMA deadline that passed next month.

But the Environmental Defence Society was worried for the remaining 85 per cent, on land in areas of 4000m2 or less, which it feared could face the chop with the reduced protection.

"The concern is that many urban trees that are and should be protected will no longer be protected," EDS chairman Gary Taylor said.

"Urban trees are incredibly important in lifting the amenity and liveability of urban Auckland.

"They will have even greater importance as the compact urban form leads to greater population density. This is where most people live and having a treeless environment will create less enjoyable living spaces."

The council's plans and places general manager Penny Pirrit said that reduced protection had been the case since the RMA changes in 2013, and she said no "chainsaw massacre" had been seen since then.

However, Mr Taylor said the council could have used that time to safeguard urban trees by scheduling them individually.

Mr Taylor believed the problem could be fixed with simple amendments to the RMA, giving more time to work through the question of whether enough trees were protected, or alternatively allowing simpler and wider protection for urban trees perhaps with a straight-forward process for getting approvals to trim and maintain them.

A study published this year showed that, even as at 2013, the Auckland isthmus had just 6 per cent of its urban forest left, and of that, well over half stood on private land.

A policy brief recently published by authors from the EDS and Landcare Research found while the loss of urban forest was "generally irreversible", protection rules were effective, as had been shown in areas with high protection.

Architect keen to turn grey back to green

An Auckland landscape architect is on a mission to return more of the city's concrete jungle back to nature.

Andrea Reid, a finalist in this year's New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects Pride of Place awards, is drawing up a pollination strategy to present to Auckland Council, which would lay out key gaps in the city's green corridors.

Landscape architect Andrea Reid wants more green amid Auckland's concrete jungle. Photo / Unitec
Landscape architect Andrea Reid wants more green amid Auckland's concrete jungle. Photo / Unitec

These avenues are crucial to a variety of pollinating species - particularly bees, birds, butterflies and lizards - which themselves keep ecosystems healthy and help maintain many food sources for people.

As urban development continued to turn green to grey, Ms Reid was concerned the city's environment was becoming a splintered network of small parks and natural islands that wildlife were finding it harder to move between.

These concept designs by landscape architect Andrea Reid show how green spaces could be added to city infrastructure.
These concept designs by landscape architect Andrea Reid show how green spaces could be added to city infrastructure.

"The patchy, fragmented nature of ecology within urban Auckland is creating a disconnection between people and the ecological world," she said.

"This is resulting in the loss of major habitats for our local wildlife and community connection with the environment - when an ecosystem becomes fragmented and disconnected it becomes stagnant.

"These species are also pollinating all of our food sources and without them a third of our that would disappear."

These concept designs by landscape architect Andrea Reid show how green spaces could be added to city infrastructure.
These concept designs by landscape architect Andrea Reid show how green spaces could be added to city infrastructure.

She suggested corridors could be built between these areas with new pocket parks, gardens, berms and bare land rejuvenated with beneficial plants.

Bee feeders and hydrators - shallow pools of water bees can drink from without drowning in - could be hung from awnings and billboards, and companies located in a corridor would be encouraged to establish living roofs and walls.

"Most of our pollination research is on the exotic honey bee, but we should value the diversity of our pollinators, especially native ones and the role they play in the pollination of our plants."

Along with pin-pointing pollination corridors around the city, she is also encouraging Aucklanders to get involved in a backyard "pollinator count" being planned for spring.