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The City of Stirling Council in inner Perth Western Australia has a fantastic community-led initiative called Adopt-a-Park, where members of the community take on volunteer positions as volunteer rangers.
From the City of Stirling website – “Both the community & the City value clean, well-maintained facilities that are cared for, attractive & safe. However, the actions of a minority who misuse or damage their local park are at odds with those values. Together with other like-minded people, you will be playing an active role in the life of your park, demonstrating to those few that misuse these public green spaces that their behaviour is unacceptable.” How wonderful it this!
There are two roles for volunteers –
1. ”Trusted guardians: who are active in the park.
2. Park neighbours: who are able to watch the park from their home during daylight hours.”
“The objectives of the project are to –
- Reduce anti-social behaviour & vandalism in parks & reserves
- Enhance the general appearance of the City of Stirling’s parks & reserves
- Educate & inform park users of local laws & initiatives, & provide feedback
- Promote & instill community pride in local parks & reserves
- Provide a sustainable future for one of the City’s major assets.”
Volunteers need to apply & be approved by the Council. They are provided with guidelines & suggested solutions to use at the scene, as well as official contacts for when they need to report something. The City of Stirling Council describes the initiative as a solution-focused approach.
Anyone reading this blog will know that I am often upset about the state of our parks, especially those along the Cooks River. People, many who come from other municipalities to enjoy the ambiance & the facilities of the park, treat Tempe Reserve like a tip. They literally toss what they are finished eating out beyond the picnic kiosks, even though a garbage bin is 2-metres away. Balloons are tied to kiosks & just left there. Burning coals are tossed into the river, into garden beds, against tree trunks or onto the lawn. I am told the same happens in Kendrick & Steel Parks also along the Cooks River.
Sports players leave countless plastic bottles scattered around the edges of the playing fields after the game. Fishermen leave lengths of fishing line along the riverbank.
The litter looks ugly & some of it smells. It is grossly polluting to river & has been incredibly harmful causing much suffering to the wildlife. Yet it never stops.
Wouldn’t community guardians be a wonderful solution for this problem? I’ll do it. I know others who would sign up too. We are all very frustrated watching this selfish behaviour happening in our parks. Having the right to peacefully approach park users to address the issue would most likely result in a huge improvement. If they get aggressive, the volunteer would just leave & submit an incident report. It would also stop the cars being driven into the park if Council sent a warning notice through the mail the following week.
I once wore a Council fluorescent yellow hat given to me at a Marrickville Council event into a park & amazingly, people started cleaning up even though all I did was walk past them. Imagine what a Marrickville Council t-shirt & an authority card would accomplish.
I spoke with some Marrickville Council workers recently who said they too are frustrated by the litter in the parks along the river. They said collect by hand 4 garbage bins of litter, including fishing line every day. This is over & above emptying the multiple garbage bins scattered around the park.
We have had bliss over winter, but good weather Saturday week ago brought people back to Tempe Reserve. A visit the following day showed that the barbeque was so disgusting it was unusable. Litter had blown everywhere & hot coals were dumped on the grass. Here we go again.
I fervently believe that it is in the community’s best interests for Marrickville Council to address the issue of litter & destruction of infrastructure & trees in our parks. Every time someone destroys something, the community pays. We pay out of our rates & also by the loss of beauty in what is nationally regarded as a municipality with a severe shortage of green space. This green space is enormously important for our health on a number of levels so if it is destroyed, we pay in this way also.
Of equal importance in my view is the wildlife. They should be able to have safe places for them to live & forage. They should not be navigating a minefield of often-dangerous litter.
What I particularly like about what the City of Stirling is doing is that the program is designed to promote pride in the environment & this could have a number of positive roll-on effects. If people start to consider their impact on the park & on other users of the park, then they also might think twice before dumping their mattress or other unwanted goods in a back street.
The community should not have to have their rates continuously spent on cleaning up after others without anything meaningful done to try & change what are essentially easily changeable behaviours. If this paradigm is not challenged Council will always have a small budget available to improve the streetscapes & parks. Instigating an Adopt a Park initiative will go a long way to stopping the never-ending cycle of selfish behaviours that detract on the enjoyment & usability of our parks & just may improve all our future, wildlife included.
In February 2011 I wrote that I had been contacted by residents who nominated Phillip & Gladstone Streets Newtown as being an area that was hot & barren, used as a place for dumping unwanted household goods & in desperate need of street trees. It was exactly as they described. I wrote, See – http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/desperately-needing-street-trees/
Residents had been in communication with Marrickville Council asking Council to plant street trees in this area. At first Council said they did not have the funds to put street trees in this location. However, after some meetings, & I presume seeing the location & how keen the community were, Council decided they would remove some concrete from the footpath & plant 4 African Tulip trees (Spathodea tulipera) & 8 Water gums – a total of 12 trees. Needless to say the community were ecstatic. I wrote about this here – http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2011/05/14/street-tree-win-for-newtown-residents/
I made a 1-minute video of this area last February 2011 before the street trees were planted - http://bit.ly/ymnapV
In September 2011 concrete was removed, the tree pits were dug & new street trees were planted along both sides of Gladstone Street. However, instead of the planned 4 African Tulip trees, Council planted 4 Firewheel trees.
At some time before the street trees were planted 2 residents decided to see if other local residents would be interested in meeting to discuss how to green the area & make it more livable & visually appealing. They took the plunge by doing a letterbox drop inviting residents of Phillip Street to the first meeting. Much to their delight 20 people turned up. 7 meetings later & the original members are still involved, plus others who come on occasions. Isn’t this wonderful.
They decided to call themselves ‘The Phillip & Gladstone Street Pride Group.’ They meet once a month, discuss ideas, report on progress with Marrickville Council, share news & spend some time cleaning the street of litter, weeding & watering around street trees & planting these areas with small plants & flowers.
The group has also spoken with a local business on Gladstone Street that has a stretch of garden bed next to the footpath. The business has allowed the group to do what they like with this garden bed, so a couple of Jacaranda trees have been planted in the empty space between 2 other trees. A mass of weeds was removed & the bed is in the process of being planted out with a variety of small plants. Both the business & the residents are winners here.
Forming this community group has brought the local community together & other local residents have asked for the group’s help in getting more street trees in their section of the street. People who did not know each other before do so now. The street is friendlier & helpful to each other & residents are learning how to propagate plants to keep costs down. While we were in Gladstone Street another member of The Phillip & Gladstone Street Pride Group returned home from the train & joined us.
Alfalfa House (also known as the Enmore Co-op) at the corner of Enmore Road & Phillip Street are also supportive of this community initiative. They decided to have the graffiti removed from their side wall by painting a very nice colourful mural which the locals think has improved the streetscape immensely. Eventually, the areas around the street trees outside the Co-op will also be planted out.
The Enmore Theatre is contributing by looking at ways to try to manage the litter that is dropped by theatre goers as this often ends up in Phillip Street. I think it is wonderful that local businesses have become involved & are supportive of the group’s ambition to beautify this area.
What was also interesting was that there was no dumped goods on the street whereas 12-months ago this area was the place to take your unwanted mattress or TV set.
One disappointment has been the removal of a number of Casuarina trees located between the back of the power station & the railway line. These trees were on Railcorp land & provided a block of green on the skyline blocking out the view of passing trains & significantly reducing the noise. Railcorp have said that these trees will be replaced.
So what started as residents’ frustration at the barrenness & ugliness of Gladstone Street has now developed into a strong friendly group that is bringing both residents & local business together to make this area a much nicer place to live on a number of levels.
Marrickville Council have been very supportive of this initiative & had a couple of onsite meetings with the residents discussing options for street work that Council will approve. Council has also offered to bring mulch to the street for the residents to use on their verge gardens.
I feel happy to be able to write about this positive outcome arising from community lobbying Marrickville Council & that they did plant much needed street trees in Gladstone Street. Council can be sure that these trees will be watered & cared for as they are already very much loved.
I am also happy to write that The Phillip & Gladstone Street Pride Group feel supported by Marrickville Council. This is such an important thing as they know that the work they do to beautify the streetscape will not be removed & they have been able to work with local businesses with confidence that any new initiative along the same lines will be supported by Council.
Local residents should not fear setting up a community group in their street because Marrickville Council have demonstrated that they are willing to assist, provide advice & help as needed. Hopefully in time, more of these community groups will be established. When people have pride in their area, there is more happiness & community cohesion. Greening an area also has tremendous benefits on mental, physical & spiritual health of which I have written about on many occasions.
Well done to The Phillip & Gladstone Street Pride Group & to Marrickville Council.
Last August 2010 I wrote about Michael Mobbs, an Environment Architect well known for his sustainable house at Chippendale. He encouraged his neighbours to transform the verges outside their houses into sustainable gardens in at least 4 Chippendale streets. This is quite an achievement & has been very successful.
The bustling verges are immediately noticeable when you drive off Cleveland Street into the streets that are part of this project. The verges make these inner city streets look peaceful & it’s far nicer than looking at concrete or strips of lawn.
City of Sydney Council has come on board by openly supporting the project, supplying funds & signage, removing concrete & allowing some of Peace Park to be used. They may have even supplied the compost bins located on street corners & in the small park. Fruit trees have been espaliered along one side of Peace Park creating an eatable fence. It looks great & allows 4 fruit trees to grow without taking valuable space from the park.
There are vegetables, herbs, fruit trees, bay trees, wild raspberry, daisies, Grevilleas, succulents, native grasses & many other plants. There may even be potatoes growing under a couple of car tyres. Some of the plants are labeled with home-made signs making the walk just a little more interesting for people like me who can’t identify every plant they see.
I spoke to a couple of people who noticed I was taking photos & they were very proud of what has been achieved. Most of the small front gardens were also well looked after & many cuttings have migrated to the verge. The sheer variety of plants makes it look interesting. The street trees that were once encased in concrete are now sitting in the middle of well-watered composted gardens & would be wondering at their luck.
According to the signs, you can, “Pick any fruit, berry or leaf that you want to eat. These plants provided by local residents for anyone. We need to grow food where we live & work.” How lovely to see such generosity. Anyone who has grown vegetables & fruit will know that unless you bottle everything, there is generally more than you can eat when a crop ripens so sharing makes sense.
Using the verges to grow vegetables, fruit & other plants has many benefits.
- Removing concrete allows stormwater to go into the ground & this serves to keep your foundations more stable & stop movement & cracking walls. It also stops pollution entering stormwater drains.
- The immediate environment gets greener & this has proven to make people feel happier.
- Producing food cuts down grocery bills & gives people a huge sense of satisfaction.
- It also teaches children that vegetables don’t come out of clear plastic bags & that they need to take care of the earth & the environment. Most kids like gardening if they don’t have to work too hard or for too long.
- Add the concept of sharing to everyone like this community has done would have an accumulative benefit that spreads outwards into the greater society.
- Projects like this one bring people out of their homes & allow them to get to know each other in a non-threatening way. A close community is a safer community.
- As the soil gets richer & the plants start to grow & produce people would feel as though they are a part of something that improves the environment & helps each other.
- Verge gardening encourages innovative thinking in that there isn’t much land to use so people have to think of ways to maximize the space.
- It also beautifies & cools the area & creates community pride.
A few months ago, the then Mayor Sam Iskandar wrote in the Inner West Courier that he hoped many people would start verge gardens in Marrickville LGA. He said Council would help them by removing concrete in suitable places if they applied. We have a new Mayor now, but I’m confident that Fiona Byrne who is a member of Marrickville Greens also encourages verge gardens.
The September 2010 Eco Edition of Marrickville Matters said Council was starting up Groundwork, a grassroots sustainability project where people will be taught various gardening techniques & “designing, installing & maintaining gardens – especially non-traditional ones like on verges & roofs.” This would certainly be something good to be involved with.
If you look there are many, many verges around Marrickville LGA where verge gardens would be suitable. From experience, you only need to start doing it to garner the interest of your neighbours & it is nice to have that bit of extra land to play with. If we all did it, Marrickville Council could save up to $2 million a year in verge mowing costs. That money could be used for other things such as street tree planting, which is another way we can benefit.
I last wrote about Michael here – http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/verge-gardens/
San Francisco has a program Pavements to Parks instigated by the Mayor. Unused or ugly spaces are made into Parklets, mini green areas for people to enjoy. In some places they remove a couple of parking spaces to widen the footpath & allow café trading & eating in this area. Where there is room, areas in the middle of the road have been made into green spaces for people to use. They are not playing sport, rather sitting alone or in groups talking to each other.
Parklets have been called ‘quality-of-life generating spaces’ & I would 100% agree with this perception. The presence of Parklets support a pedestrian culture & encourages people to walk or ride. San Francisco intends to establish 35 other Parklets over the next 12 months.
As urbanisation becomes denser with more people living in areas & with new buildings unlikely to incorporate any serious useful green space, Parklets are going to be what builds communities & helps retain sanity.
They are cheap to create & maintain & the sky’s the limit in the creativity & beauty they can bring. I think they are a great idea & already needed in Marrickville LGA. We have so many areas that are concrete wastelands. Parklets don’t have to be along the main shopping strips. They can be created anywhere that has some space. The people will use a Parklet if it is there.
Just last week I saw 2 people sitting on chairs that they had carried from their home to a concreted space that was in the sunshine. They were sitting drinking coffee & talking. What was noticeable was that they were not near residential buildings.
I believe spaces like these encourage people outdoors. Being smaller than a park, they increase the likelihood that people will speak with each other. Fostering good relations is all part of building communities. Parklets would also encourage people to look after an area in terms of less littering & tagging by creating community pride.
They will also have the added benefit of helping to lower the Heat Island effect & if the plants used provide food for nectar-eatung birds, then the benefits only increase. To my mind the benefit of Parklets are too numerous to ignore.
There is a 3.44 minute video that shows a few of the new Parklets in San Francisco & I think it is worth the time spent viewing. There is a few seconds that sound like an advertisement. Ignore this section because better shots of Parklets follow.