Wellington Scoop

A green covid-19 recovery programme for Wellington

by Paul Blaschke, Ralph Chapman, Philippa Howden-Chapman and Maibritt Pedersen Zari
One of the upsides of the Covid-19 lockdown has been discovering the pleasures of our neighbourhoods as we walk, cycle and socialise in local parks, streets and walkways – safely of course. We all know of the benefits that physical activity and contact with nature have for our wellbeing, and this is backed up by recent research.

But we, along with many others, have also been discovering that not all parts of our local open spaces and trail network are ideal for this increased activity, in spite of the generally excellent work done over the years by the Wellington City Council on our parks and reserves.

Portions of some walking paths are overgrown or uneven, making walking or cycling less safe, harder than it should be, and impossible for some. It is not always easy or safe to maintain physical distance on our narrow trails and footpaths. And in parts of the central city there simply are not enough local green spaces for our growing population.

This situation leads us to propose an immediate “urban green recovery and wellbeing” project to boost our priceless city green spaces and trail network. This is an ideal short to medium-term post-Covid recovery project for Wellington City.

It is job-rich and low-cost compared to many of the other allegedly ‘shovel ready’ projects being proposed. It builds up our green infrastructure to deliver multiple environmental and biodiversity benefits. It encourages and enables greater wellbeing for Wellingtonians through more walking and cycling opportunities, as well as more opportunity for contact with nature – all the healthy activities that have become more front-of-mind during the lockdown. In economic terms, these advantages lift the benefit-to-cost ratio, in terms of healthcare cost savings and well-being gains per council dollar spent.

But best of all, this project could be operational and providing tangible benefits very quickly.

We propose three main components to the project, to complement and enhance the Council’s Open Space Access Plan (2016).

First, enhanced maintenance and clearance of urban walking and cycling trails, everywhere in the city where needed. The immediate Level 3 lockdown priority would be clearing vegetation from trail edges, creating small passing bays and minor re-surfacing of trails to provide maximum safety and easy physical distancing. Later components should include reconstruction of failing steps and handrails, and trackside weed control or planting for habitat enhancement and amenity.

This work could start immediately but should be accompanied by good communications and public information, including signage, to lift resident awareness of the trails in the city, to chart progress, and to help residents make council aware of the places needing attention. The work could be done by small council or contractor teams redeployed from other activities which are currently on hold, or of lower priority. Keeping safe while doing this work under Level 3 should be easy.

Second, reconfiguring key streets as “shared pathways”, to make them safer for physical distancing and more pleasant for walkers and cyclists as well as motorists. This project would mainly target connecting streets and lanes in the inner city. It would also be beneficial around some busy suburban centre and walking and cycling routes. These changes have already been successfully trialled in some inner-city Wellington streets such as Bond and lower Cuba Streets, and in congested Auckland inner-city streets. The changes (which need not all be permanent) could incorporate planter boxes, strips or small areas of vegetation.

Third, developing small pocket parks and more green spaces in the central city, including on street corners and suitable road reserve areas. This is especially important for the area between Willis Street and Cambridge Terrace: we know from recent work that there is a significant shortage of green space for the increasing numbers of residents in this area. The immediate focus should be on inexpensive green developments, which need not all be permanent – for example, providing small “doses” of green on vacant lots, and working in partnership with sympathetic developers and private sector players.

In short, this modest “urban green recovery and wellbeing” project is literally shovel-ready, will provide immediate effective redeployment of key city workers, and for modest cost will boost our wellbeing in valuable ways.


Dr Paul Blaschke, Assoc Prof Ralph Chapman, Prof Philippa Howden-Chapman, and Dr Maibritt Pedersen Zari are urban sustainability researchers and teachers at Victoria University of Wellington and University of Otago, Wellington.


  1. Ben Schrader, 30. April 2020, 18:24

    I agree that the experience of the last few weeks has shown us many ways to make Wellington a more enjoyable place to live in. Being able to run in the middle of the street to maintain physical distancing from pedestrians on the footpath and not be fearful of being hit by a car was liberating. Was it too good to last?

    As well more pocket parks in the central city – a prime candidate in my view would be the Cuba Street/Swan Lane carpark – thought should given to using streets more creatively. This means not only more shared spaces but also periodically closing streets for things like weekly street markets. The closure of the Victoria St fruit + vege market later this year for the new townhouse development provides one such opportunity. Why not close off part of southern Victoria St and have the market there?

  2. Ralph Chapman, 30. April 2020, 22:01

    Good idea, Ben. I agree that it would be exciting to try closing off a part of Abel Smith St — maybe between Victoria and Cuba — and have a regular market there. This sort of thing is very common in London, Geneva and many other cities around the world.

  3. Mike Mellor, 30. April 2020, 22:23

    Those are all excellent ideas: I hope that they’ve been put to the WCC so that they can apply for them to be funded under NZTA’s Innovating Streets initiative.

  4. Pam, 2. May 2020, 12:04

    Ben, I agree the importance of green pockets in the city has been ever more evident than during the lock down. Residents making great use of neighborhood green areas. It was disappointing when legislation governing Wellington’s Town Belt was changed, that WCC did not push for the land in Clifton Terrace, known as the Old Correspondence School to be returned to the Town Belt. A similar area at the top of Abel Smith St was reincorporated back into the Town Belt. The land appears to be largely maintained by locals. It would be great if these local green areas could be increased, particularly as the city grows.

  5. Wendy, 2. May 2020, 14:02

    Ben and Pam: thoroughly agree. Walking around the inner-city during lockdown it has been depressing to note how so few green spaces are available for residents. WCC has actively encouraged high-rise apartment development with what seems no real thought for the needs of people living in these buildings. The town belt is a wonderful asset, but it is NOT a substitute for parks down in the city.

    A 2019 Report for WCC (Green Space in Wellington’s Central City prepared by Sustainable Cities) found that “there is a substantial lack of greenspace within 300m of the population-weighted centre of the Willis St – Cambridge Terrace CAU; the per capita amount of any green space in this CAU is very low and what greenspace is available is dominated by hard surfaces”. And therefore “deliberate consultation and collaborative planning with a wide range of stakeholders is necessary to ensure appropriate equitable access to green space”.

  6. Ralph Chapman, 7. May 2020, 9:28

    Yes, it’s been really interesting doing more walks from home (Aro Valley) during the lockdown. I’ve seen green corners I’ve never seen before. But what has stood out is the big difference between the abundance of green space in areas like Brooklyn and Kelburn close to the town belt, and the scarcity of green spaces in downtown Wgtn. This amply reinforces the conclusions Paul Blaschke and I and others came to in the study Wendy refers to. More creative action to increase and improve even small green spaces downtown/Te Aro is needed.