Panorama of Tempe Reserve playing fields

Panorama of Tempe Reserve playing fields

Parents & children gathering under the shade of trees in Enmore Park

Parents & children gathering under the shade of trees in Enmore Park

“Savvy states & communities are starting to think about green space in a more thoughtful & systematic way. They realize that green infrastructure is not a frill—it is smart conservation for the twenty-first century.” ~ Mark A. Benedict & Edward T.McMahon, Conservation Fund

It’s ‘Parks Week’ in Australia & New Zealand.  I’ve not heard of it until today.  Parks Week aims to –

  •  “Highlight & celebrate the important role parks play – across people, communities, & the natural environment;
  • “Highlight & celebrate the important role parks play – across people, communities, & the natural environment;
  • Encourage greater use of parks;
  • Celebrate the contribution that volunteers make to parks;
  • Promote the healthy parks, healthy people message;
  • Promote park management agencies & the work they do.” http://bit.ly/1hEEF7Q

We know there is a clear connection between access to good green space & the quality of the urban forest to mental & physical health.  Marrickville municipality has the least green space in the whole of Australia & researchers from Deakin University found that in 2010, Marrickville was the unhappiest suburb in Australia.

For residents of Marrickville municipality, our urban forest & parks are of vital importance & will become more so with the fairly intensive development on the horizon.  Approval has been given for 12,000 new residences, so there will be more people using the limited green space.  Hopefully developers will stop building right to the footpath & will include trees & green space in their housing developments, as this will increase livability & make for happier residents.

One thing is certain; we cannot afford to lose any of our public green space & what we have needs to be made so that it is inviting & useable.  We have a number of great parks, but we also have green space that is no more than an empty block of grass. This is a wasted opportunity that whether consciously or not, has a negative impact on the immediate neighbourhood.

Parks are more than a piece of ground with a few trees & grass.  They are essential to neighbourhood & community wellbeing.  To complicate matters, we all have different ideas of what makes a park great.  Some want natural bushy sections; some want a playground, while others want playing fields.  If a park is big enough, it can incorporate all of these aspects.  Pocket parks however have limited space & so often have a limited ability to meet a range of needs.

A good example of a virtually worthless pocket park that fortunately Marrickville Council are going to upgrade is Murdoch Park in Illawarra Road Marrickville.  Until recently it was called Murdoch Playground, yet there was nothing in this park except grass, a concrete path from one side to the other, two old broken concrete benches & some signs.

Council intends to spend $20,000 upgrading this park in 2014 by adding plants, shade trees & new seats.  I imagine it will go from a place that no-one uses to a place that people will use, all because it will have been made inviting.   I am looking forward to seeing what Council does.  If Amy Playground is a benchmark, I expect it will be good.

Parks can show off a suburb if they are great.  If they are empty, ugly or in disrepair they can negatively effect perceptions of that neighbourhood & can also attract criminal behaviour.  Therefore beautiful parks are a bonus to the neighbourhood & their presence has far reaching impact.

Parks can revitalize a community. They can bring people outdoors & break down barriers.  People can make friends in parks because they may be doing the same activity allowing them to feel comfortable speaking to people they do not know.  Children’s playgrounds & exercise areas are a great example of this, as are dog-walking areas.  Everyone knows that if you want to meet people, walk your dog or even someone else’s dog.  Great parks also attract older people & so can break down age barriers.

Parks offer respite & if designed as such, can offer peace away from the hubbub of traffic, noise & other human activity.  Central Park in Manhattan is a great example where one can find peace & quiet in a city of 1.619-million people (2012) living in an area of 87.46 km².   Much has to do with both the size (340-hectares) & design of the park, as well as the 24,000 plus trees.  By comparison & closer to home, Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens cover 64-hectares (Botanic Garden: 30-hectares & The Domain: 34-hectares) & between them they have approximately 4,770 trees.

Research has found that people who only have a view of concrete experience greater levels of aggression & violence & their children have a greater range of psychologically aggressive behaviours, than those who have a green outlook.   This shows that it is better for your family’s health is you forgo the stamped concrete driveway or concreted back garden & put in the least amount of hard surfaces as you can.  Green is far better for mental health than grey surfaces.

Parks also absorb stormwater & cool the urban heat island effect.  I was surprised to read that the Western Channel Subcatchment in Marrickville South has 78% hard surfaces.  This is terrible for stormwater management, but it also shows that grey infrastructure is dominating the visual outlook in this area & this is not good for community wellbeing.  The riverside parks would be offsetting this to a large degree, but only for the people that use these parks.

Parks can also build communities, but they need to be appealing to attract people to use them.  Parks also have an important role of supporting biodiversity & they passively educate people about the importance of nature.  Kids who often spend time in parks & other natural settings are more likely to grow up to be adults who care about the environment.  There has been lots of research focusing on the change where children are now spending the bulk of their time indoors & under adult supervision.  There are many research papers on the change in kids play here – http://bit.ly/MHsL1C

Parks need good trees, shady trees & trees that are shaped liked trees, not shaped like street trees.  Side branches are an inherent part of a tree & do not need their side branches to be pruned off when the tree is in a park.  The beauty that a tree provides is an important asset in any park, so trees should be allowed to look their best.  Monoculture is not a good look either.

Parks also need sufficient seating, including seating away from busy areas such as playgrounds, barbeques & major pathways.  Facing them to look at the view is a good idea.  Older people or those with health issues often do not go to the park because of a lack of seating or they do not want to sit in or near the playground.

Shade is also important.  I don’t know about you, but the sun feels really harsh to me these days & I often find it too hot to be outdoors.  Steel Park with its magnificent broad-leafed Poplars that provide dappled shade across the park bring coolness that is wonderful on a hot day.  Kids can run where they please & people can spread out because they are not trying to fit under limited shade.

A tin roof kiosk may look good, but you can bake sitting under these structures on a hot day.  Trees cool & clean the air & that green that is so positive & potent to the human being’s health.  All our parks should be filled with all kinds of trees.

“Show me a healthy community with a healthy economy & I will show you a community that has its green infrastructure in order & understands the relationship between the built & the unbuilt environment.” ~ Will Rogers, Trust for Public Land.

Marrickville's newest park at the end of High Street & fronting Ruby Street.  I don't know if it has been officially named yet.

Marrickville’s newest park at the end of High Street & fronting Ruby Street. I don’t know if it has been officially named yet.

Warren Park Marrickville

Warren Park Marrickville

Sydney Park is not in Marrickville municipality.  I include it here because I think the trees & the variety of species is wonderful.  Just imagine what this place will look like in ten or twenty years.  They have planted hundreds of Fig trees too.

Sydney Park is not in Marrickville municipality. I include it here because I think the trees & the variety of species is wonderful. Just imagine what this place will look like in ten or twenty years. They have planted hundreds of Fig trees too.

 

 

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