Marrickville streetscape.  There was more concrete behind me.

Marrickville streetscape – photo taken last week. There was more concrete behind me.

The news has been very tree-orientated in the last few days with Greg Hunt the Federal Environment Minister announcing that the government will have a vision for improved urban tree coverage within 18-months. See – http://bit.ly/1KvzEuO

The federal government’s plan for cities is to increase the urban canopy every decade to 2050 to “reduce heat within city environments and improve health outcomes.”

“Green cities — cities with high levels of trees, foliage and green spaces — provide enormous benefits to their residents. Increasing urban canopy coverage decreases heat, which improves health and quality of life.”

Finally the urban canopy is being acknowledged as a health issue!  Recent research has found an increase in respiratory & cardiac illness with more fatal cardiac arrests in areas with a poor canopy. Add increased depression & obesity & you have an unhealthy, unhappy community, which ultimately has a cost on all of the community.

Unless there is a change of culture, I believe these problems will only increase with the current trend of high-rise housing with little or no green space or access to peaceful green space, as many of our parks are being transformed into entertainment areas.  Therefore, an Australia-wide initiative driven by the federal government to increase the urban forest canopy can only be applauded. We can have high-rise & green space. Green walls & green roofs can be incorporated into new designs just as easily as a pool for example.

The federal government’s announcement might be alarming for those state governments which are removing trees at a fierce rate in the push for development.  In Sydney alone 400 trees, many of them large Fig trees that are iconic to Sydney are being removed in Randwick for the eastern suburbs light rail project. This is despite Randwick Council saying that the light rail line can travel the same route without removing the trees. A whopping 760 trees will be removed along the entire light rail route.

The NSW government’s response to criticism about the tree loss has been that eight new trees will be planted for every tree removed. Sounds good, but I will watch with interest at what species of tree is planted, how many survive & what the canopy looks like in a decade. I highly doubt the canopy will ever look like it did in the beginning of December 2015.

Even closer to Marrickville LGA is Sydney Park at St Peters where 350 trees are being removed to establish a construction depot for the WestConnex Motorway.  See – http://bit.ly/1OpHg63.  It seems that trees & green spaces are fair game for development, even when there are other options. Bushland at Wolli Creek is also threatened for WestConnex. The most expedient & cheapest way is to remove trees, yet the impact of doing so has far reaching consequences on both the community & the wildlife.

Then there is the 10/50 Code that allows for any tree to be removed within 10-metres of a home & remove underlying vegetation within 50-metres of a home without seeking approval because of bushfire risk. The North Shore & Pittwater areas of Sydney have been losing trees like they have no meaning.  The 10/50 Code offers a giant loophole for landowners to remove trees for any reason they like & according to Lane Cove Council, bushfire risk in the area is minimal. Still their urban forest has been decimated.

Globally 2015 was the hottest year since records started. 2011 to 2015 have been the hottest 5-year period world-wide since records started.  Sydney is expected to be like living in Rockhampton in subtropical Queensland by the turn of the century. See – http://bit.ly/1DM40tk Therefore, what is planted also needs to be taken into consideration if local councils want the trees to survive more than a few years.

Part of greening our cities, which also includes suburbs, requires a culture-shift of the community itself. Many areas of Sydney are defined by their trees – the North Shore, Pittwater, Eastwood area & Sutherland Shire as examples. Then there are suburbs with few trees, both public & private.

I took this photo in Bexley today.  This was one of a number of other street trees pruned like this.

I took this photo today in Bexley. This street tree has negligible amenity, except for the person who pruned it.  It adds no benefit to the wider community or to managing climate change

I think it may be a battle for a while until the prevailing attitude towards trees changes. To change public perception of trees, the government will need to embark on a strong multi-media education program. Twice in the past week I passed individuals in Marrickville who were casually pruning street trees into small stumps with no canopy.   That they do this in broad daylight shows that they believe that it is their right to do so & that they have little care or no conception that the street tree belongs to the whole community.

With luck, tree vandalism will become a rare occurrence, street trees will be planted in better conditions & the community will embrace the care of the tree by watering it while it is establishing & also during dry periods.

What will be wonderful in my opinion is that large canopy trees will become the norm because it is these trees that provide the most benefit & utility in cooling the streets & also in carbon sequestration.  It is also these types of trees that the federal government is talking about. I will be very pleased to see spindly street trees only used in spaces where there is no room for anything larger.

I will also enjoy the resultant beauty along our streetscapes when trees become more of a feature than buildings & where landscaping is used more often than concrete. Green walls & green roofs will be wonderful as well.

Lastly, greening our suburbs will bring wildlife in & support wildlife already here. Instead of the constant noise of traffic & planes, we will listen to white noise of bird song during the day & crickets & frogs at dusk. I know this to be true because the simple addition of some native trees & an under-storey has brought much wildlife to out place, whereas it was almost bereft when we moved in.

We have to change as individuals & as communities. Local Councils need to change as well. Much needs to be tossed out of current tree policies if they do not support increasing the canopy or the tree species chosen & placement does little to lower the urban heat island effect.  I suspect local councils will rapidly get on board with federal government directives, but I fear some in the community may find it hard to embrace an environment full of trees. We all have much to gain from a greener environment, from large canopy trees, to areas of under-storey filled with shrubs & plants & grasses & from being able to walk around without dashing from patch of shade to patch of shade.

Climate change will demand that everyone cooperates with the greening of our cities or we will suffer, cause our community to suffer & make it unlivable for future generations.

 

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