Green belts

Current Wellington Town Belt
Source: Wellington City Council, Wellington town belt management plan. Wellington: Culture and Recreation Division, Wellington City Council, 1995.

A greenbelt is a large area of open, natural land around or close to cities and suburbs, that limits urban sprawl and protects natural environments and ecosystems (Han, Daniels & Kim, 2022). Greenbelts can exist on differing scales – wildlife corridors, recreational parks, wetlands, forests, farms. 

There are examples of successful greenbelts in large cities across New Zealand and Australia – notably Wellington and Melbourne. Each city has its own level of protection and regulation around the greenbelt, and inevitably they can be contentious, as people battle between the need for space for urban growth, and the desire to have natural, public spaces and environments.

As global populations increase, an overwhelming majority of built environment professionals agree that compact cities and increased densification is the most efficient way forward for our cities. Densifying housing inevitably means relying less on private outdoor space, and more on shared, public space. Greenbelts can be an invaluable means of creating space for human and non-human species to thrive, especially as we grow more and more interconnected. 

Across Oceania are countries where cities are still developing, on land largely dominated by swathes of natural environment. As those cities develop, greenbelts can be protected and maintained to reap the numerous benefits.

Name of NbS

Greenbelts

Type of NbS

Created or constructed living ecosystems/ecosystem restoration/ecosystem protection

Location

Urban

Case Study

The Wellington Town Belt Management Plan

Mākara Peak (left) and The Southern Walkway (right)
Source: Wellington NZ (2024). Top 5 trails in the Wellington Region.

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

Although greenbelts are not specifically related to an Indigenous knowledge framework, the preservation of the natural environment and people’s relationship with it is intrinsically aligned with Indigenous beliefs.

Prioritising the natural world and our collective responsibility to it speaks to wairuatanga and kaitiakitanga. 

Additionally, in many cities in Oceania, there is an increasing realisation that we need to protect our endemic, native plants and species. Greenbelts are an opportunity to find ways to support Indigenous biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.

Climate change benefits

In Oceania, where the effects of climate change are increasingly visible, greenbelts contribute to climate change mitigation in a number of ways.

Urban heat island effect

Increasing the amount of natural environment and trees in a city is the easiest way to counter the urban heat island effect.

Carbon sinks and carbon sequestration

Greenbelts act as carbon sinks and sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create sustainable ecosystems (Parida et all., 2022). Where greenbelts maintain higher density urban areas, less energy per capita is used than in sprawling suburbs (Han, Daniels & Kim, 2022), there is less need for private cars, and people are more likely to use public transport – all ways of lowering a city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Natural disasters & increased temperatures

Large areas of natural environment and permeable areas are key when combatting natural disasters. The Oceanic region is increasingly characterised by environmental extremes (Campbell et all, 2013) and by being at risk of extreme weather events caused by climate change. Rising sea levels, increased rainfall, flooding, droughts and wildfires are all factors that Oceanic cities must consider. Greenbelts act as natural flood control and buffers for wildfires.

Reduced air quality

Greenbelts lower air temperature, increase relative humidity and improve air quality (Jo et al., 2017). Plants absorb particulate matter, gasses and metals in the air, and are a simple, cost effective ways of improving the quality of the environment of a city. Better air quality and less exposure to harmful emissions improves people’s health.

Societal/socio-cultural benefits
Human physical health and wellbeing, and the natural environment

For many Oceanic communities, the wellbeing of people and the environment is intrinsically linked. Indigenous world views in the Pacific tend towards reciprocal relationships with land. Nature is sacred and so is our daily relationship with it (Dickie, 2005). Greenbelts provide an opportunity for people to engage with nature every day, in a city surrounded by it. Beyond spiritual connections, science tells us that spending time outdoors, in nature is incredibly beneficial for our physical and mental health.

Preventing urban sprawl and pressures of urbanization

Greenbelts limit urban sprawl and create denser cities. Urban containment has many economic, environmental and social benefits to a city and its inhabitants. Denser cities create closer communities and more public amenities. Greenbelts act as spaces of connection, with each other and the environment.

Ecological and biodiversity benefits

Greenbelts are an opportunity to support local ecologies and native species, and protect the natural environment. They encourage people to engage regularly with the natural world, and to see it as an essential part of city life. 

The more diverse and large the greenbelt, the more ecologies can be supported. Large greenbelts with a diverse range of natural habitat can support a wide range of species, and be a focal point for improving, extending and connecting ecologies. 

Healthy ecosystems are key to a city’s resilience (Wellington City Council, 2018). 

Technical requirements

Greenbelts require a set of regulations and protections, mainly from Councils, to reconcile the balance between land preservation and land development. 

Additionally, there needs to be management and maintenance of the land. In Oceanic cities, this tends to fall to Councils, or departments of Conservation.

Issues and Barriers

Urban growth

The most common argument against greenbelts is that limiting expansion of urban growth raises issues around affordability of housing, and limitation of space for cities to expand. This battle between land development and land preservation is increasingly relevant as our populations continue to grow at a rapid pace. 

Comparison of two major Oceanic cities, Auckland and Wellington is an interesting illustration of different methods of growth. Wellington has maintained and protected its greenbelt, and a reasonably compact city has grown with it. Auckland on the other hand suffers from extreme urban sprawl. The city’s boundaries increasingly creep outwards, and infrastructure struggles to keep up. 

Pest & vegetation management:

Management of invasive weeds and pest plants and animals needs to be factored into maintaining and protecting the greenbelt.

Opportunities

Across Oceania, there is a wide variety of types of city. In Australia and New Zealand, there are large cities which can provide models of how urban development has been both positive and negative, and how urban and natural environments support each other.

Many of the Oceanic Islands are characterised by their natural environments. As these cities develop further, and battle the effects of climate change, they can utilise their natural environments to create and sustain greenbelts around their cities. 

“If a greenbelt is used for urban sprawl control, it must be used as a part of an integrative package that includes other planning, economic and social tools.”  (Rowe, 2012).

Financial case

Natural disasters and climate change

As Oceanic cities are increasingly threatened by climate change, there is a need for climate change mitigation. Maintaining greenbelts is a cost-effective way of protecting cities from floods, fires and increased sea level rise. Natural environments, trees, and permeable areas lower air temperatures, mitigate flooding, buffer fires and absorb increased rainfall. Using greenbelts in this way, embracing a blue-green infrastructure model decreases the need for extensive built infrastructure.

Health and wellbeing

On a wide scale, anything that increases the wellbeing of a city’s people decreases the cost to healthcare. 

Job opportunities

Large greenbelts like in Wellington create job opportunities, partnerships and community participation, which ultimately creates financial opportunities for the city and the Council. 

References
  • Bengston, D. N., & Youn, Y.-C. (2006). Urban Containment Policies and the Protection of Natural Areas: The Case of Seoul’s Greenbelt. Ecology and Society, 11(1). https://www.jstor.org/stable/26267777
  • Campbell, J., Bedford, R., & Bedford, R. (2014). Migration and Climate Change in Oceania (pp. 177–204). Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6985-4_8
  • Han, A. T., Daniels, T. L., & Kim, C. (2022). Managing urban growth in the wake of climate change: Revisiting greenbelt policy in the US. Land Use Policy, 112, 105867. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2021.105867
  • Parida, T., Riyazuddin, S., Agnihotri, S. R., Kolli, S. K., & Srinivas, N. (2022). A Study on Carbon Sequestration Index as a Tool to Determine the Potential of Greenbelt. Journal of People, Plants, and Environment, 25(4), 371–383. https://doi.org/10.11628/ksppe.2022.25.4.371
  • Rowe, J. (2012). Greenbelts. https://infocouncil.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/Open/2011/03/RUR_25032011_MAT.pdf 
  • Susan M. Opp, L. C. H. (2016). Local Sustainable Urban Development in a Globalized World (S. M. Opp & L. C. Heberle, Eds.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315592879
  • van Heezik, Y., Smyth, A., & Mathieu, R. (2008). Diversity of native and exotic birds across an urban gradient in a New Zealand city. Landscape and Urban Planning, 87(3), 223–232. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2008.06.004
  • Wellington City Council. (2018). Wellington Town Belt Management Plan .
  • Zhu, C., Ji, P., & Li, S. (2017). Effects of Urban Green Belts on The Air Temperature. Journal of Environmental Engineering and Landscape Management, 25(1), 39–55. https://doi.org/10.3846/16486897.2016.1194276