Kōrero: City parks and green spaces

Whārangi 3. Early green spaces in major cities

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‘Lungs’ of the city

Early settlements also provided for parks and domains. These were cultivated, manicured spaces suitable for family outings, recreation, promenading and people-watching. Along with town belts, parks and domains were seen as healthy environments, and were often described as the ‘lungs’ of the city, where city dwellers could breathe fresh air. This metaphor was common in Britain and the United States, where parks were believed to provide important breathing space in polluted cities. It gained currency in New Zealand from the mid-19th century to the 20th, and is still common worldwide in the 2000s.

Seeing and being seen

Green spaces have always been used as a place to meet, greet and promenade in front of others. In 1861, a correspondent in the Lyttelton Times wrote that ‘large spaces or parks are required, not usually for athletic or simple amusements, but that the people may have the opportunity [to] show themselves and be seen.’1

Slow growth

The number of green spaces in 19th-century New Zealand cities grew slowly. During the first few decades of colonisation, settlers were getting established in a new land and had little time to promenade in parks. Urban populations were small, and vacant town sections and nearby rural and coastal land provided green spaces. Once populations began to increase significantly from the 1860s and 1870s, provision of parks became an issue. However, the development of essential amenities such as waterworks and drainage was given priority, and parks came later.


In Auckland, Governor William Hobson reserved land for a public domain within the block purchased from Ngāti Whātua in 1841. The area – now known as the Auckland Domain – was the city’s main public green space for the next few decades.

Other early green spaces included Albert Park in the central city, Mount Eden, Western Park in Ponsonby, One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie) in Epsom, and nearby Cornwall Park, which was gifted to the city by businessman Sir John Logan Campbell in 1901.

Horses in Hagley

In 1862 the Canterbury provincial government set aside part of what is now Little Hagley Park for Māori to tether their horses when visiting Christchurch. Previously they had left their horses in the marketplace (now Victoria Square), but for unknown reasons this bothered authorities. Māori visitors were told to ‘discontinue the habit’2 and move to Hagley Park.


Hagley Park in Christchurch has served a similar role to Auckland’s Domain. An area of around 200 hectares on the western fringe of the central city was reserved in 1850 as part of the town plan. Two large avenues soon divided it into North and South Hagley Park, with Little Hagley Park on the northern tip.

Over time the land was transformed from swamps, sandhills and shingle beds dotted with tussock to a park made up of open spaces, woodlands and recreational facilities, mainly sports grounds.

Other early green spaces in Christchurch include Latimer, Cranmer and Victoria squares, and the central city riverbanks, which were planted and tended from the 1890s.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Quoted in Charlie Challenger, The development of the designed landscape in Canterbury. Wellington: C. Challenger, 1979, p.14. Back
  2. Canterbury Provincial Council, Secretary’s Office, outwards correspondence (856/1862), to J. W. Stack, 25 July 1862. CH 287 item CP 421, Archives New Zealand (Christchurch). Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Kerryn Pollock, 'City parks and green spaces - Early green spaces in major cities', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/city-parks-and-green-spaces/page-3 (accessed 16 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Kerryn Pollock, i tāngia i te 11 Mar 2010