From A to B and feeling good: the road less travelled

I am a driver. I want to get from A to B, from one side of the city to the other, in as little time as possible, with as few traffic lights as possible, as well as seeing as much greenery as possible. I am not a cyclist, a walker, a bird or a living organism wanting an ecological corridor. I just want to drive across town in the most pleasant way possible.

1. Christchurch urban farming with the Port Hills in the background
1. Christchurch urban farming with the Port Hills in the background. Image from Sue McGaw.

Recently leaving Rangiora at 9.10 a.m. I drove on one of my preferred routes to Bealey Avenue in the city in twenty minutes going through only two traffic lights. This got me thinking about Christchurch city networks.

In July 2010 Ignatieva, Stuart, and Meurk submitted a review entitled “Planning and design of ecological networks in urban areas.” I found this interesting because that date was shortly before the September 4th, 2010, Christchurch earthquake, the first in a major series of quakes over the next few years. Subsequently with the city in disarray many points raised in the paper (new basic infrastructures, transport, ecological and conservation networks, aesthetic networks, green corridors, and other newer planning concepts including greenways, blueways, skyways) took on a whole new meaning and urgency.

I am not sure about the urgency, because after six years we as motorists, cyclists, and daily city navigators, are in a position to choose whether we physically pass through a devastated red-coned network, or choose a route good for the eyes and the soul with as much varied visual biodiversity or ecological potential.

2 Post earth-quake 2.Urban waterways with wildlife, and Mt Grey in the background
2 Post earth-quake 2.Urban waterways with wildlife, and Mt Grey in the background. Image by Sue McGaw,

Ignatieva et al. proposed that “urban ecological networks can establish physical, visual, and ecological connectivity between the built-up areas of the city and the surrounding natural areas and greenspaces.” Ignatieva took a landscape architectural perspective, while Stuart and Meurk took an ecology and land restoration perspective.

While urban ecological networks may be defined in different ways by different professions, the end result is collaborative planning. They recommended a multidisciplinary approach to planning: more planners and ideas at the planning table, and more organisms to take into account moving along future corridors. Of course these corridors include the wildlife, the plant life, and us humans (drivers like me).

In their paper they acknowledge historical planning has led to modern day planning of ecological networks and corridors. Once there was the village green, and the promenades and public parks. Historic planning tended towards picturesque landscapes, rather than functional connections with biodiversity benefits.

Taking the idea of historical influences in the thought processes of planning leading up to change, Ignatieva and colleagues go a step further by allowing that there is room for new ideas to be explored, implemented, and be of benefit. They include: Low Impact Urban Design & Development principles, recognition of the extent of home gardens and existing civic planting, the benefits of human well-being and health from visual experiences, recognition of cultural lore, identity and practices, and restoring existing areas of ecological possibility.

For example, there are many studies on the benefits of the greenspace infrastructure: such as Kiat W Tan Singapore on a greenway network, and Shafer et al, on greenspace infrastructure.  Similar studies recognize that existing native ecosystems in urban areas can be restored, and that residential gardens can also contribute to urban forest remnants. Stuart states that more than 50,000 trees have been planted in the parks and streets of Christchurch by local government alone. Low Impact Urban Design and Development is another planning tool that seeks to use the infrastructure of swales and drains in a visually beautiful way that may also contribute to local wildlife habitat and the visual enjoyment by local residents.

3.Tree-lined streets, some of more than 50,000 trees planted on Christchurch streets and parks
3. Tree-lined streets, some of more than 50,000 trees planted on Christchurch streets and parks. Image by Sue McGaw.

Observation and research to date in New Zealand indicates that our green corridors tend towards providing mostly habitat, rather than acting as connectors for habitat. Te Ara Kakariki, provides nodal habitats across the Canterbury plains in the hope that birds may be encouraged to move from the hills to the sea finding food sources along the way. For our urban planning, more research is required into what organisms, food, habitat, and distance between nodes may be required in order to be effective.

Blueways” are also on the planning tables with emphasis on urban waterway ecology, especially in Christchurch with our many springs, streams and estuaries and other water bodies, and our avian visitors including the godwit.

As a motorist, I am very appreciative of the many varied “green” or “blue” sights I experience driving through Christchurch, and I choose my route accordingly. I may even go past the settlement ponds to see the godwits.

“Visual” wellbeing is not the only benefit to humankind. Future research should be able to “demonstrate psychological and biophysical benefits”, (Sanesi) which is a further reason to give weight to a wealth of visual biodiversity. See more birds, have less stress. Even the Kaiapoi and Christchurch “red zone” ecological wastelands are becoming interesting, and although these fall into the category of planning after the event they still have great potential as useful and aesthetic corridors.

4.Pied Stilt checking out the red-zone
4. Pied Stilt checking out the red-zone. Image by Sue McGaw.

With our broken city under repair, there are many more opportunities for multidisciplinary planning approaches in the future of Christchurch’s urban ecological networks. Extending our concept of what ecological corridors  may look like, and not limiting our thinking in planning for them are the points raised by Iganatieva, Meurk and Stuart. Beneficial ecological pockets  may include cultural identity land use and use of waste space. A recent example is the Kakano Cafe, complete with extensive inner city Maori cultural herb garden.

Innovative use of waste space and unclaimed space potentially contributes to the ecological corridor whole.  Kuhn pointed out that “spontaneous vegetation in urban planning design does not only have economic advantages but can also tell us something about the historical use of a site.  Unintentional spaces may develop, and that apart from developing a pride in the history of a wild space, the public may  become involved or motivated by it.” Yes certainly, if I have to drive down Barbados street I am motivated to stop with a coffee in a waste space! It is a corner complete with seat, earthquake rubble herb garden, one-hole mini golf, and an old fridge with books in it!

Maybe it is time for us as drivers to be innovative in choosing our routes! Rather a feast of green for my eyes than red cones and red lights. Bring on the ecological city corridors!

The author Sue McGaw is a postgraduate student in the Master of Science taught at Lincoln University. She wrote this article as part of her assessment for ECOL 608 Research Methods in Ecology.


5. Inner city wild reflective space
5. Inner city wild reflective space. Image by Sue McGaw.


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