Community involvement in the guardianship of New Zealand cities’ green spaces began in the late 19th century. Different groups have come and gone, but a tradition of guardianship has endured.
Protectors of rocks
As well as planting trees and lobbying to preserve native bush, the Wellington Scenery Preservation Society busied itself with more obscure beautification projects. In 1905 the society took issue with ‘the eyesore of advertising notices on rocks and fences in public reserves’.1 However they failed to rid the city of this menace.
The Dunedin and Suburban Reserves Conservation Society (now the Dunedin Amenities Society) is New Zealand’s longest-running conservation group. Started by lawyer and conservationist Alexander Bathgate in 1888, this group is credited with transforming Dunedin’s scruffy open spaces into tidy parks planted in trees and shrubs, along with many other activities. The society was still active in 2010.
Scenery preservation societies were among the earliest groups with an interest in protecting urban green spaces. Starting in the 1880s and increasing in popularity in the 1890s, they were formed in Auckland, Taranaki, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin. They were concerned with preserving native bush and beautifying cities by planting on bare land, usually council reserves. In some cases they successfully lobbied for the creation of new reserves, such as Kennedy’s Bush in the Port Hills of Christchurch. By the 1920s most had disbanded.
Beautifying societies, also active from the late 19th century, but much longer-lived, carried out similar voluntary work. The Christchurch Beautifying Association started in 1897 and was still active in 2010.
The Trelissick Park/Ngāio Gorge Working Group in Wellington has a novel approach to involving the community in restoring the park. Under the ‘Adopt-a-Spot’ scheme, participants have their own area to look after. Spots are planted with native species approved by the group and supplied by the Wellington City Council.
Volunteers in the 2000s
In the 2000s, many green spaces in New Zealand cities were looked after and protected by voluntary community groups, such as friends’ groups or protection societies, as well as by councils and management boards. They undertook a range of activities such as tree planting, pest and weed management, guided tours, and report and submission writing. These groups acted as watchdogs, keeping an eye on how councils managed green spaces.
Many councils ran volunteer programmes, allowing the community to play an active role in the protection and care of green spaces. The work was usually hands-on – mostly planting, weeding and cleaning up.