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4 different views of verge gardens in Chippendale

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.

Signs like this one are all along the streets involved in the verge gardening in Chippendale

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.

Wild raspberries are growing over this arch in the Chippendale verge gardenss

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 –

Fruit trees at the edge of Peace Park Chippendale. This can be done in most places & allows fruit trees to grow without taking up much space. Most fruit trees do well in pots so long as they don't dry out so this could be done in a courtyard or on a balcony or roof space


Eastwood Plaza-I think this is Wisteria. It is very beautiful & very welcome on a hot day

I’m a bit late with this, but I have just read Marrickville Matters.  I always like this magazine.  They have a nice article about trees on page 5.

For those of you who don’t know, Marrickville Council has launched My Place 2021 & they are asking the community to have a say about the new Community Strategic Plan. The plan covers many areas including environmental & development issues.   It hasn’t closed for comments & I’m not sure when this will happen.  Don’t let this opportunity to have your say regarding how you think Marrickville LGA should be over the next 10 years.  There have been a few comments, but not such that I would call great community involvement.  You can comment anonymously if you like.   I’ve yet to add my 2 cents worth.

The DA for the old Marrickville RSL site corner of Illawarra Road & Byrne Street is back like the gift from our Auntie that we don’t like.  According to people I have spoken with, this newer version just brims with problems, including 5 areas of non-compliance. Frankly, the community are angry that their concerns have not been taken notice of by the developer & freaked out that it will be approved by the JRPP when it goes before them.

It’s all a matter of personal taste, but having looked at the plans, I think the building is ugly & without doubt, totally out of character for the area.  It’s like the developers don‘t take the community seriously.  “You are going to get modern so live with it!”

It looks like something from Pyrmont & despite this being an issue last time, there is NO minimal GREEN SPACE.

Are the developers thinking that this will be start-up housing before people move onto better accommodation?  If so, then in my mind, they are creating a future ghetto for Marrickville.  The developer says this development fits into Council’s future vision for Marrickville.  This belief is another reason why it is important to leave your opinion on My Space 2021.  Both the Councillors & Council staff need our input when designing our future.

The old Marrickville RSL site is the building in the centre of this photo (many of us will miss the tasteful poster). The building on the left is the only 4 storey building on Illawarra Rd, so at 9 storeys, the new development will be more than double in height

There will be 3 buildings at 6, 7 & 9 storeys meaning it will tower over the neighbourhood & block city views from Schwebel Street.  It will also bounce train noise from 3 rail lines back to Schwebel Street & the housing on the hill.  The people who live here say it is already very noisy, especially during the night.  The goods line is about to commence operating 24 hours a day.

The plans intend 17 studio units (I would have thought this type of housing wouldn’t be allowed anymore), 73 one bedroom units & 90 two bedroom units, a total 180 units.   The previous plans were for 128 units.  The community thought this was too big so they have returned with a plan for 180 units.

It has parking for 171 vehicles so they expect owners will not have cars.  There is 663 sq metres of retail floor space, enough for a supermarket, so I wonder where the shoppers are going to park.

It appears they have removed the RSL from the plan because of concern having shoppers & kids able to see drinking & gambling from the shops & added another 3 metres to the overall size.

There is a petition going around with hundreds of signatures & I urge you to sign it.  Once I know where it will be I will post the locations and date/times.  If you would like a draft submission, you can send me an e-mail & I will send you the draft which was sent to me.

You can download a copy of the DA at Marrickville Council’s website – It is 12 down in the list for 359 Illawarra Road Marrickville.  You can also view in hard copy at Council’s Citizens Service Centre during business hours.

The deadline for submissions is Thursday 15th April 2010.

You will need to quote DA201000115, your reasons for objecting & provide your name & address (preferably your email address) & a contact phone number.

I sincerely hope that many people take the trouble to send in a submission.  This development is regarded by many as the test run.  If it gets through, then it signals what is okay for Marrickville LGA & we will get a lot more developments of this kind.  It won’t take long before our Inner West area is changed for the negative with ugly high-rise & masses of traffic congestion.

Everyone I have spoken with acknowledges development & housing is needed.  They just want it to blend into the neighbourhood, be greener in outlook, creative & not create towers & canyons that they feel will ruin the area.  I agree.

While I was writing this I watched the news which was outlining the proposed massive increase in population in NSW.  Isn’t it interesting how this topic has become accepted in our language in just a few months.  Everything else has followed, including the pushing of high-rise throughout Sydney’s suburbs.  From an idea, it’s become a ‘must.’

I have been following with great interest developments around the world concerning climate change & the value of trees.  Every climate change expert has been seriously & loudly advocating that we immediately stop large-scale logging in forests. They are also advising that we embark on mass reforestation world-wide, citing this as the most effective means of soaking up the dangerous levels of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere & preventing run-away climate change.  Of course there are other interventions, such as stopping the use of coal for power, but trees are universally recognised as an essential component in the management of climate change & the prevention of species extinction, including human beings.

There is a also a increasing push for rich countries to pay for the preservation of old growth forests which are currently being logged or burnt at alarming rates.  The Amazon Rain Forest, long regarded as the ‘lungs of the world,’ is one forest the existence of which is deemed essential to preserving life on this planet because it removes billions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere & stores it as carbon.

There is also a plethora of information coming out about the value of trees in the urban setting.  Again, the experts say that we must plant more trees in our cities & that we should be doing it now.

The climate change experts say we need to plant substantial trees with large trunks & substantial canopies, as these tree species are the most effective at sequestering & storing CO2.  Small stature trees with thin trunks & branches are not nearly as effective in CO2 sequestration as large trunk trees & should be used when there are no other options.  However, you just need to visit a intensely built suburb like Balmain or Paddington to realise that large trees can survive well in small spaces & the buildings do not fall down as a result of large trees planted near them.

My reading has shown there is a marked difference in attitude regarding trees between Australia & most of the world with the difference most noticeable with America.

Americans love their trees & it is quite common for a local community to come together to protest the removal of any tree within the urban landscape.  Tree removal & pruning is reported widely in American news.

I came across this lovely sign in a Camperdown park

Read any article about trees in the local news throughout America & you will find many comments left by readers, sometimes into the hundreds.  The community is highly engaged when it comes to trees & not just concerning street & park trees.  Americans with no particular affiliations & of all ages routinely protest the proposed pruning of trees in back roads, the removal of a lone 100 year old tree sitting next to a railway line, the removal of street trees because of pavement movement or development & even the lowering of the green canopy by new home owners who remove trees on their property.

In New York state a number of counties have invoked Ordinances which prevent developers from clear-cutting lots for housing, a practice which is done routinely in Australia.  Counties are also preventing people who have newly bought into the area from cutting down trees on their property stating that this action changes the character of the town.  They say it is unacceptable for people buy into an area because it looks good, then proceed to make the area look bad by cutting down the trees on their property & even asking that the street trees be removed as well.

In one County in New York both the community & the Governing bodies because upset when they realised the green canopy had decreased.  Now there are strict town codes preventing the removal of trees & hefty fines for those who chop first & ask questions later.  The County knows who have chopped down trees on their property not only because of reporting from neighbours, but also, because they have done a tree inventory & this is monitored on a regular basis.

Significant proof is required if residents accuse trees of causing damage.  All trees cut down on private property have to be immediately replaced.  There are also strict requirements about the species of tree that is required to be planted in the place of a tree that has been removed.  A property owner cannot cut down a large tree & replace it with a small growing tree unless they have accepted proof as to why this is necessary & they certainly cannot elect to not plant a replacement tree without good reason.

I highly doubt they allow pruning of street trees done by residents to ensure a tree doesn’t grow, a practice that is reasonably common in the streets of Marrickville LGA.

The community is educated about the benefits of trees from school upwards.  There may be significant debate & denial about anthropogenic climate change in America, but most people know that trees collect storm runoff, prevent soil erosion, remove pollutants from the air & raise property values.  Neither the community nor the Governing bodies are willing to allow what they openly term ‘tree haters’ to remove trees without good reason.  They believe that trees belong to the community & should be protected by the community.  They also strongly believe that trees are vital to the community’s well being.

We often follow America in our likes & customs.  I am hoping that a general love, knowledge & appreciation of trees become the norm in our society.  If the climate change scientists are correct, we don’t have too long because we need trees now more than we ever have in the known history of mankind & trees take decades to grow to the size needed to be effective in removing & storing CO2 from our atmosphere.   We need to start now.



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