The Case for Golf Courses, well actually Case for Urban Forests #AKLPols

Forests before houses if we are to flip Golf Courses


No I am not being an ultra-green hippie here before you get any odd ideas. But I am going to reply to a three-part series by Peter Nunns over at Transport Blog over the apparent case of flipping golf courses in urban Auckland to housing and possibly commercial estates on pure monetary grounds. That is Auckland is subsidising these golf courses who do not pay market rates on their land as the rest of Auckland Ratepayers do thus is it fair for Auckland to do so?. To draw the long story short especially looking at Part Three of Mr Nunns analysis:

Chamberlain Park land valuation chart
Chamberlain Park land valuation chart Source:


Thus it can be reasonably concluded from Mr Nunns that the land at Chamberlain Park should be flipped over to housing and commercial to remove the bias of rate subsidies otherwise incurred at the golf course.

I could not think of a worse proposition for urban Auckland especially Isthmus Auckland which has high population densities already and will only get higher as time draws on.


The Case for Urban Green Spaces


Botanical Gardens looking out towards Manukau City Centre
Botanical Gardens looking out towards Manukau City Centre


I saw this quote from the same Transport Blog post which is similar to my own reaction about what is essentially green spaces:


I’m not a great fan of golf as a sport (as once said, golf is a nice walk, ruined), and I’ve been following your anti-municipal-golf-rant through the last few articles, but I think you have perhaps missed the main point. Auckland is a great city not because of its architecture, or because of its seamlessly effortless public transport system, but because of its unique outdoors nature. It is a city with massive amounts of seafront, and beaches, and trees, and open spaces, and that includes things like ridiculously cheaply priced, under-used golf courses. It may make no economic sense, but it is part of what makes Auckland special. Delete it at your peril.



We have enough existing urban land in Auckland to take the intensification needs of a growing Auckland through the life of the Unitary Plan. The Auckland Council Development Capacity Model (ACDC15) has been run now several times using different variations of the four urban residential zones (Single House, Mixed Housing Suburban, Mixed Housing Urban, and Terraced Housing and Apartment Zones) and has illustrated that with some more upzoning and getting the Centres (especially the 10 Metropolitan Centres (or rather 8 and the two Super Metro Centres as I have proposed)) better prepared we have more than enough existing urban land to develop on before cutting into our green spaces.

Green spaces which become even MORE important as the City intensifies and more people move in over the next thirty years.


Central Isthmus Auckland Chamberlain Golf Course is towards the top left corner
Central Isthmus Auckland
Chamberlain Golf Course is towards the top left corner


Hence as I believe if we are to flip any Council owned golf courses over those courses should be come urban park spaces and/or urban forests!


Well when New Zealand is the worst offender in the Developed World for loss of native flora and fauna replanting some of our native forests in urban Auckland would be a good start to repair some of the damage we have done since the Colonial era.


But there are other reasons both physical and social of benefit to establishing urban parklands and forests in Auckland of we were to ever flip over those golf courses. These reasons include:

  • Urban lungs for a city that has smog problems that will only get worse as we intensify and grow
  • Green corridors for our native wildlife especially birds
  • Close proximity of large green spaces for the population to enjoy recreation in
  • Possibility of establishing trails including bike trails in the middle of urban Auckland
  • Mitigating the obesity crisis as more people will be within close access to a large urban forest (again recreation)
  • Stormwater and run off relief as you can establish ponds  to capture and filter rain water from an intensified and more impervious Auckland before it enters the streams and harbours
  • Social interaction. Who doesn’t like going for a walk or bike ride with others in an urban forest?
  • Amenity values to urban areas surrounding the new urban forests

Yes Auckland is blessed with green and open spaces but this does not provide an excuse to bulldoze golf courses into housing estates. I am sorry that is what the existing urban landscape is for. Golf courses should become those urban lungs and recreation spaces as we continue to intensify.


The physical and social environment benefits of establishing these forests would offset what turning those courses into housing estates (and rates revenue gained subsequently) could ever provide.


Simply put: Forests before houses with our golf courses if they are ever to be flipped!


Below is pictures from last Summer at the Botanical Gardens and Manukau’s Hayman Park. Examples of large green spaces in urban Auckland that can be replicated if we were to ever flip over those public golf courses.

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3 thoughts on “The Case for Golf Courses, well actually Case for Urban Forests #AKLPols

  1. Hi Ben.
    Your ‘forests and parklands’ proposal is similar to my submission to the Council/Local Board. I too argued the case for multiple ecological functions. My case is along the lines of what landscape architects and progressive urban planners these days call “green infrastructure”.

    I call my proposal “Nine-Role Golf Course”. Here is the essence…

    This park can – and should – do much more than just various forms of recreation. Expanding Chamberlaine’s function from golf to a few more recreational activities is shortsighted. It neglects the imperative of re-evaluating the role of ALL green spaces in the city in the face of the challenges urban areas will face in the 21st century.

    Chamberlain Park is presently Auckland’s best opportunity to demonstrate the concepts of ‘green infrastructure’ and ‘working landscape’, the critical ideas and strategies in facing the challenges on a warming, overpopulated, overexploited planet. By ‘best opportunity’ I mean this is the place to experiment with turning urban nature into ‘working nature’, and then apply the lessons learned to all other green open spaces in the super-city.

    Unfortunately, the master plan recently adopted offers little more than just another traditional urban park. If this unwise plan gets implemented, we will probably regret this one day in the near future…

    Instead, this is what the ‘nine-role golf course’ idea is about:

    The purpose of green open space in (and around) the city in the 21st century must be multiple. In the case of Chamberlain Park, at least NINE AGENDAS should be considered. Given the exceptionally endowed site, and with a bit of luck with the choice the landscape architect (who, presumably would be supported by enlightened ecologists and engineers) ALL nine functions could be integrated in one excellent design.

    The NINE AGENDAS are:
    1) Stormwater management
    2) Climate moderation
    3) Habitat protection
    4) Public recreation (incl. golf)
    5) Visual amenity
    6) Food & fiber production
    7) Waste recycling
    8) Energy generation
    9) Environmental education

    This is what “green infrastructure” – the concept that progressive city planners, urban designers and landscape architects increasingly use in debates about environmental sustainability of cities, and their resilience to natural and man-made hazards and crises – exactly is about.

    In some theories and examples, green infrastructure is highlighted as the most important concept in the overall strategy for sustainable cities and resilient communities. Sustainability and resilience are important because our future is burdened with the prospect of climate change, peak oil, economic crises and disruptive events. What makes them really scary is that at the same time as these threats appear more likely, the global city population keeps growing and its dependence on urban services is ever larger. Thus the total exposure to risk keeps escalating.

    The only remedy is to reduce the dependency. This means having some of the necessities of life (food, water, energy, sanitation) also available locally, rather than delivered over huge distances. This availability may be modest at the ‘normal’ times, but at the times of crisis, or when a disaster strikes, it should be able to soar reasonably fast. Which is what green infrastructure is about – apart from being a smart way of exploiting the so called ecological services of nature in the city for a relatively small investment along with the conventional, constructed urban infrastructure in the normal times, it also represents our Plan B for the difficult times.

    Admittedly, some of these propositions are ‘theory’. It is therefore critical that Chamberlain Park be used as a ‘prototype’. It appears to be one of the best opportunities anywhere in Auckland to demonstrate what green infrastructure is about, how it works, and what it looks like. We should think of it as a big experiment. Like all experiments, it should deliver a lot of new knowledge – including the knowledge derived from mistakes made in some aspects of the design. Green infrastructure is still an evolving idea and practice and needs to be tested and calibrated in local conditions.

    “A Nine-Role Golf Course” seems like a suitable label. It signals that golf must stay and that the place still resembles the typical golf course layout. But it also indicates the park’s new, much more ambitious, multi-functional programme: stormwater; climate; habitat; recreation; beauty; production; waste; energy; learning.

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