Auckland Council will invest more than $190 million into upgrading the playing capacity of the city’s sports parks over the next 10 years. This is a prime opportunity to apply green infrastructure philosophies. By Mark Bowater and Tracy Talbot.
Sports parks play a critical role in Auckland Council’s vision to become the world’s most liveable city. But until now council’s parks, sport and recreation department has developed these parks without acknowledging the fundamental role green infrastructure plays in sustainable design.
With over 4000 parks across the Auckland region, 224 dedicated sports parks and 800 winter sports field platforms, sports parks make fundamental social, economic and environmental contributions to the community.
Conversely, ongoing development, upgrades and maintenance of sports parks contribute to the depletion of natural resources through high potable water consumption, high energy use and use of materials during construction and redevelopment.
Auckland Council has recognised the effects of urban intensification and is moving towards countering the negative impacts from this increased growth by committing to environmental action and ‘green growth’ through the Auckland Plan, the Low Carbon Auckland Plan and the Parks and Open Spaces Strategic Action Plan.
It is championing environmental sustainability, low-impact design philosophies and innovative use of green technologies.
To complement its technical capabilities, the parks, sport and recreation department partnered with Opus International Consultants to develop a green infrastructure guidance document that provides best practice research, guiding principles and actions.
The key driver for both the department and Opus was to develop a guidance document that staff and other local government organisations could use as a tool to consider alternative options to current practice. As such, the key priorities of the guidance document were to provide:
- Green infrastructure guiding principles;
- Green infrastructure guiding actions; and,
- National and international case studies.
Green infrastructure guiding principles were developed to provide a simple framework for staff to refer to when considering incorporating green infrastructure into their projects.
Firstly, the emphasis was on a design-led approach. To ensure the strategic goals are met, it is critical that the strategic planning is a priority for the department.
A good example of a regional approach is the award-winning Hoboken Green Infrastructure Plan for New Jersey in the US. The scheme, which received a 2014 Outstanding Plan Award, demonstrates how a successful framework based on key principles of connectivity and sustainability can integrate both green and grey infrastructure.
Secondly, sports parks need to be designed to ensure a low carbon footprint: ultimately a zero-carbon sports park would be the preferred outcome. Recycling and repurposing structures and pavements within sports parks will assist in mitigating the effects of sports park development.
Recycling products including plastic, rubber and asphalt will reduce waste going to landfill, incorporate lifecycle thinking, and avoid depletion of natural resources, thus resulting in a lower carbon footprint.
Thirdly, workable solutions also need to be innovative, and innovation wasn’t to be only about the obvious solutions. One of the objectives of this document was to encourage staff to “think outside of the box”.
To date, very few green infrastructure and green engineering solutions have been applied to natural and synthetic turf fields. For example, current practice when draining a field drains excess water away and potable water is then purchased for irrigation (approximately 1.5 million litres per annum per couch grass sports field).
This practice has a high long-term repeat cost and is not considered environmentally sound. However, with the development of systems that can be recycled, to below-ground water-capture systems that permit the retained water to be utilised elsewhere, sustainability and whole-of-life costs are now part of the decision-making process.
Additionally, components for synthetic turf fields, such as new base layer products for synthetic turfs, can now be substituted for gravel, drainage and shock pads, thus simplifying the construction process and minimising waste.
Through applying a design-led approach and using innovative solutions, the department can find effective ways to not only meet community demand for sports parks, but achieve sustainability in design.
The following green infrastructure guiding actions were developed to support the implementation of green infrastructure during the phases of planning, development and redevelopment.
- Embed the principles of green infrastructure during project planning, design and construction;
- Establish baseline data, and model and map the potential for green infrastructure across sport parks;
- Understand the benefits of green and grey infrastructure lifecycles through detailed business cases and whole-of-life cost analysis; and,
- Encourage use of green infrastructure and green engineering principles through trialling, innovating and implementing new technologies and solutions.
The department recognises that the current approach to sports park design and construction is fairly prescriptive, and only addresses the issue of a shortfall in playing hours. But in future we want staff to ask the question, “How can we increase hours of play, and incorporate green infrastructure principles”.
If staff begin to incorporate green infrastructure and green technology within capital projects, and then we can demonstrate how this contributes towards achieving Auckland Council’s strategic goals of reducing our carbon footprint, we have achieved what we set out to do.
We recognise that our generation tend to live in the now, and take for granted the resources we have around us; we feel little pressure to provide for the future.
Yet, if we design and construct with tomorrow’s generation in mind, our city and our communities will thrive on the social, environmental and economic benefits that green infrastructure solutions will leave. The journey to understanding where, when and to what extent green infrastructure practices should become part of future planning, development and redevelopment of sports parks has begun.
Mark Bowater and Tracy Talbot are presenting on this topic at the NZRA National Conference being held from November 9 to 11 in Queenstown. For more information on the conference go to: bit.ly/NZRA_National_Conference.
- Mark Bowater is manager parks for Auckland Council. Mark.Bowater@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz
- Tracy Talbot is work group manager infrastructure development at Opus International Consultants. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in the November 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.