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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 – https://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/verge-gardens/

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

 

In news just in, the Victorian Labor state government has ‘refined’ rules regarding street trees & power cables.  The new law, “set minimum clearance space” around cables. It ranges from 30cm to 3.5m, depending on the type of powerline.” The energy companies must be planning a big celebration party.

“Banyule Council deputy mayor Jenny Mulholland, whose municipality includes Ivanhoe & Eaglemont, said many of Melbourne’s leafy streetscapes would be reduced to rows of tree stumps. She said 75,000 trees would be affected, costing the council $3 million, or the equivalent of a 6% rate rise.”

Street trees in Darlinghurst

Quite understandably, many of Victoria’s local Councils are very unhappy about the new rules, as the fine is $30,000, which I presume will be for each tree that breaches the clearance space.  Councils will need to spend millions of dollars pruning & removing larger trees just to comply with the initial stages. Then there will be ongoing costs. This is death to most local government budgets.

Here is where it gets really interesting.  Melbourne is famous for its street & park trees.  Having lived there I can attest that is it is a lovely green city with large street trees everywhere.  Most ordinary streets in Melbourne are what we in Sydney would call ‘an avenue of trees’ & regard as special streets.  The city prides itself on its street trees & it has lots of urban wildlife.  People & businesses take care of the street trees.

We visited Melbourne recently & it seemed that there were more trees than when I lived there.  There was no rubbish around trees in the areas we visited, trees were not in cages, branches were not snapped off & main shopping strips were full of large leafy trees.  Large street trees in the middle of the road is the norm.  The general height of street trees in Melbourne is much higher than in Marrickville LGA.   Most street trees reach well above the gutters of buildings & many are higher than the buildings themselves.

Quite simply, the city & surrounding suburbs looked glorious. Speak to any Melbourne person about the street trees & watch their face light up. They love them.

It makes a big difference to how a city & its suburbs work when there are a lot of street trees. People are drawn to eat outside. Melbourne is a coffee-drinking culture.  There are hundreds of cafes with people sitting at tables eating & drinking under street trees.  They were doing this as a norm 30 years ago, while here in Sydney it is a relatively new thing.

Street trees in Liverpool Street Sydney

Many of the street trees of Melbourne are deciduous so, like Canberra, they have visible seasons with autumn colours, bare trees in winter & spring growth. Because much of Melbourne is flat terrain, trees are visible in the distance. They also bring much beauty to industrial areas or areas where the quality of the buildings is not so attractive.

Take the trees away & you have removed much of what makes Melbourne special. The city won’t recover & the loss of street trees will affect tourism in a major way.

Add the fact that Melbourne is very hot in summer. Most years they have a few days of constant heat-wave conditions.  Take the street trees away & the heat island effect is going to be horrendous. Then there is winter where the winds come straight from Antarctica & are bone-crunching freezing. With fewer street trees, the wind won’t be diffused & will roar around the streets. The heat will be hotter & the cold colder.

To me the Victorian Energy Minister Peter Batchelor has made a really strange decision. In one foul swoop he will seriously affect tourism for the city, he will ensure rates rise dramatically, he will anger the Councils & seriously anger the people. How will they accept that their beautiful streets are going to be denuded & made ugly? The process may start, but I doubt it will last long once people & industries start noticing the impact & the loss of quality of life.

Has the Minister not heard of global warming or climate change? Just how hot does he want the city of Melbourne & its suburbs to become?  Imagine the follow through as more people go to hospital with heat, respiratory & cardiac related illnesses.

Hills Figs in Jersey Street Marrickville

The real winners of this decision are the power companies & the retailers of air-conditioning units.  Every residence will need at least 1 air-conditioning unit & sales will go through the roof. More electricity will be used & power costs will increase dramatically. The city will pump out CO2 making us proud polluters in the world stage.  Urban wildlife will die. The city will be dirtier from particulate matter & dust that usually gets picked up by the trees.  People will be angrier. Graffiti will get worse as it is known to be high in areas that have few street trees. Rates will rise again just to pay for graffiti removal & state taxes will rise due to the increased pressure on the health system.

It’s astounding that this ‘rule’ comes out of the mouth of a representative of the people who is supposed to be doing things for the people & for the benefit of the people.  While the rest of the country & the world gets its act together about trees in urban areas & greens their cities, Melbourne will be doing the opposite.  Right now Melbourne is a role model of what a green city looks like.

Street trees in Salisbury Road Stanmore

Then the National Broadband Network will roll out.  If they don’t put the cables underground, they will put them on the power-poles just like Optus did.  They will probably want their broadband cable positioned another metre below the Optus cable & then all the street trees will have to be removed.  Great move.

In a senate debate, “To bury or not to bury,” the following was written – “To provide optical fibre cables aerially, the NBN Co will need to either use existing electricity utility infrastructure, or to build their own poles where there are none in existence. Aerial cabling is most likely to be used in existing, or ‘brownfield’ areas, where telecommunications & other infrastructure already exists. Extrapolating from that assumption & taking guidance from the Tasmanian roll-out, the committee believes that aerial cabling may be deployed over the vast majority of the 90 per cent FTTP footprint.”

http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/broadband_ctte/third_report/c04.htm

I can’t imagine the people of Melbourne will just sit back & allow their suburbs be made into wastelands. I will watch how this pans out & report back on the most interesting bits.  Good luck Melbourne.

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/melbournes-famous-tree-lined-streets-could-be-stripped/story-e6frf7kx-1225941423229

Birds on Fatima Island in the Cooks River

I downloaded the report because there was interest in the issue. The first thing that struck me was the cover page. It is a photo of the banks of the Cooks River probably taken early last century, but that’s just a guess.  The environment looks unbelievably bad, not what I expected at all. I had a vision of a pristine river with natural banks & trees everywhere. Instead there is a very large denuded area about the size of Steele Park with 4 tall trees, 1 dead & another on its way out.  There are around 16 newly planted saplings in the photograph with what appears to be a team of men doing some work chopping away sandstone from an area about 20 metres from the bank. The bank itself is ‘natural’ with not a mangrove to be seen. Pity copyright prevents me from including the photo.

This photo shows that Marrickville Council have done enormous restoration & re-vegetation work on the Cooks River, its bank & the public space alongside the riverbank which I guess was precisely what they intended.

On to the report itself – First up is an aspiration of what the future could be like (words in bold are my emphasis) –

“In 2050….. Our people-friendly streets & roads are clean & there are minimal hard surfaces. Streetscapes, roads & roofs are ecosystems, available for local food production. Stormwater treatment systems are also habitat for frogs, insects and bandicoots. Transport is now completely green, there are few cars & people mostly walk & cycle.  Our community revolves around shared green spaces that are self-sufficient with water. Parks have wetlands & forest reservations. We swim in Dibble Avenue Waterhole & the Cooks River waterways that are also habitat for wildlife. The Cooks River & its foreshores are clean, in a natural state & can be used for recreation & fishing.”

Now wouldn’t that be amazing & something wonderful to pass on to future generations.

Marrickville Council has so far created 3 Subcatchment Management Plans: Illawarra Road Subcatchment Marrickville South, Tennyson Street Subcatchment Dulwich Hill & now Riverside Crescent Subcatchment in Marrickville South.  There are 21 subcatchment areas in Marrickville LGA, so it’s big job.

I found the Riverside Crescent Subcatchment Management Plan exciting for a number of reasons.

  • The goals are big, but achievable.
  • Council intends to work with the community.
  • Private property issues with stormwater & the creation of permeable surfaces are also to be addressed.
  • Council expects measurable improvement by 2019.

Cooks River

Approximately 60% of the Riverside Catchment is impervious surface. Of that 60%, roads make up 34% with roofs, driveways & carparks making up the remaining 66%.

From the Report – “The implemention of the Riverside Crescent Subcatchment Management Plan can only happen if citizens make practical changes on their properties. (my emphasis)

The idea of “depaving” is gathering momentum in the USA, especially in Portland, Chicago & Berkeley. With the permission of a landowner, paved areas are removed & replaced with vegetated areas. In Portland, a community organisation called Depave.org has led depaving projects in private backyards, school yards & parking lots.” (Portland has done some incredibly innovative & dynamic things regarding street trees, verges, kerbs & the community is heavily involved. I would love to visit & see for myself.)

As with ‘green laneways,’ the only way to stop up to 85% of rainwater becoming stormwater & ending up in our drains & then eventually into the small creeks in the LGA, the Cooks River or the ocean is by removing as many of the impermeable surfaces as we can. Making surfaces permeable

A section of fantastic restoration work on the bank of the Cooks River at Ewen Park

allows water to go where it should, into the ground or into rainwater storage tanks for use in & around the home. Once rainwater enters the ground, it fills the groundwater & travels through the natural causeways through the ground to reach creeks, the ocean or the Cooks River. The water is by then, cleaned of pollutants. Council isn’t kidding when they say they are going to need to co-operation of the community.

Last week the Australian New Zealand Climate Forum released figures showing that Sydney is already 0.65C hotter than Newcastle. This may not seem like much, but a global temperature rise of just 2 degrees is thought to be catastrophic & result in major problems with food production, water, rising sea levels, 30% animal & plant extinction, weather patterns, floods, drought, & unsustainable living conditions for people.

The heat island effect is causing the heat stored in our many hard surfaces to remain during the night & this makes for one very hot Sydney.  We have already noticed significant changes over the last 3-4 years & unless we do something about this soon, Sydney is only going to get hotter.

Stamped cement driveways will be a thing of the past because we will eventually choose to not live with the heat stored on our property.  Hopefully Council’s Subcatchment Plan will enthuse people to remove theirs & install a permeable driveway instead. If Marrickville Council are successful in encouraging community co-operation & participation, there will be huge changes in the way the community views the environment in terms of water, trees, verges, litter & dumping.

Dibble Avenue Waterhole - this has the potential to be amazing

Dibble Avenue Waterhole is also targeted in the Plan. According to Council’s Report, the historic & potentially very beautiful Waterhole that is fed from direct rainfall, groundwater & stormwater runoff from adjacent properties has “high concentrations of heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, copper, mercury, nickel, lead & zinc. These exceed guidelines’ values & pose an ecological risk.   ….up to 25 species of birds including several important migratory & wetland birds, such as the Eastern Curlew. Chestnut Teals, Dusky Moorhens & Australian White Ibis, have been observed most recently. Long finned eels, dwarf flathead gudgeon & mosquito fish have also been recorded.”

I am really happy that Council is doing this kind of work, because not only will it improve our environment in terms of general cleanliness & a cleaner river that we may one day be able to swim in, it will also increase biodiversity by offering homes & food for urban wildlife.  It will also be tackling global warming & the lessening the impact of climate change.  Okay, it’s a small scale, but hopefully all the Councils in Sydney & across Australia will do the same or similar & this process is repeated across the world.  We have to clean up our own back yard.

One very small thing we can do right now is stop buying bottled water or stop throwing plastic bottles away as litter. In all my walks along the Cooks River, the most common litter I see in the river, along the banks & in stormwater catchment drains are plastic water bottles. Some of them can travel to the Cooks River through the stormwater drains from as far as Newtown. Just making a change here will lessen the pollution load in the Cooks River.  It’s Marrickvlle LGA’s little piece of paradise & it can be so much better.

There is much more in the Riverside Crescent Subcatchment Management Plan. For those of you who are interested, it can be downloaded here (6.5MB) – http://www.marrickville.nsw.gov.au/edrawer/Files/331251926/TRIM_TR_REC_1207345.PDF

Cooks River with Tempe railway bridge & the bridge at the Princes Highway in the distance

 

 

In news just in, the Australian New Zealand Climate Forum is meeting in Hobart today.

Climatologists have established that Australia’s cities are feeling the heat of both urbanisation & rising temperatures.

More trees please.  If we don’t plant them now, it will become much harder to grow trees in urban environments because they will die from the heat.  I’ll post more about the Forum when the information is available.  http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/10/14/3037851.htm?section=justin

 

I have found a product that could radically transform Marrickville LGA.

It will do the following:

  • Allow any ground surface to be permeable to water.
  • Allow ordinary traffic to use the lane, including vehicles up to 90,718.474kgs  (100 US tons)
  • Capture stormwater before it hits the gutters & goes down the drain
  • Adapt to the contours of the landscape without downgrading its ability to capture stormwater
  • Will not form ruts or tracks from wheels
  • Prevent soil erosion
  • Maintain its performance even during wet weather
  • Fully sustainable & made from recycled material
  • Virtually no maintenance
  • Never needs replacement
  • Looks great & can be made to be invisible.

Laneway in Newtown

The product is PermaTurf. An American company makes it, but there must be suppliers in Australia.  It is a system of large sheets of interlocking cells made out of recycled plastic that can be filled with dirt & planted with grass or filled with mulch, pebbles or similar. It can also be cut to size.

Imagine if Marrickville Council dug up the bitumen & concrete & covered our laneways with this product.  The photos on the company’s website show seamless grass, but using grass may be unsuitable for Council as the bill for mowing is already around $2 million a year. Pea pebbles can be used instead of grass.

This means that the lanes deemed unsuitable to be made into green laneways because the garbage trucks use them can also be transformed.

Undoubtedly this product will be expensive. However, the cost for paving the footpath outside 8 shops is around $60,000 & it only looks good for a short while. It is soon covered with chewing gum spots.  Surely this product is comparable in price & the benefits in terms of stormwater management & lowering the heat island effect has to make it worth thinking about.  The suppliers say it is easy & quick to install so there won’t be any specialist installation costs.

Every 1mm of rain that falls on every sq metre of roof equals 1 litre of water.  The formula is 1m x 1m x 1mm = 1 litre. So for a 160sq metre roof & 5mm of rain, 800 litres of stormwater is generated from that one roof.  A 250sq metre roof & 15mm rain will produce 3,750 litres of stormwater.

A section of the Cooks River showing the mainly plastic garbage that has collected along the banks. Pockets of this garbage are everywhere along the banks & bottles can be seen floating down the river. They mainly come from stormwater drains. Mudcrabs, a community group of volunteers collects the garbage regularly. Their contact details are in the blogroll in the left-hand column

At this stage, having rain tanks fitted to collect rainwater from roofs is not the norm.  Most of the rainwater from the thousands of roofs in Marrickville LGA flows down onto hard surfaces like driveways, car parks, lanes, roads & footpaths.  Very little of this rainwater is caught by gardens & verge gardens. Most of it ends up in the drains & eventually into the Cooks River. Around 85% of rainwater that falls on a typical large city will flow into stormwater drains.

You don’t have to drive far in Marrickville LGA to find roads & footpaths that flood during a brief downpour because the 100 plus year old drains can’t cope.  Covering our lanes with a product like this will capture millions of litres of rainwater. This water will refill the ground water, stabilize our buildings that are mostly built on clay & prevent our old drains from overflowing & stop a great deal of ground surface pollution ending up in the Cooks River.

The edges of lanes & other places could have plants growing along them because you only put this product where you want it.  The possibilities are almost endless.  You could have wall to wall PermaTurf in lanes where there is high traffic & for less frequented lanes or use it in conjunction with garden space along the edges.  See – https://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/green-laneways-stormwater/

Laneway in Enmore

Apart from using this product to transform laneways, it is a very suitable alternative to a stamped concrete driveway.  The cells can be planted with grass seeds so the driveway actually becomes hidden. If you are worried about driving on the ordinary lawn, you could plant small ornamental plants to show the edges of the driveway.  The driveway can be mowed the same as the lawn.

The more you concrete your property, the more you affect the ground water & the clay soil.  The Inner West is built predominantly on sandstone & clay soil. When clay soils dry up, they shrink & cause movement & cracking of the structure, so a permeable driveway does much to prevent this.

I think it would be great if Marrickville Council could seriously look into this & other products like it to make our laneways permeable to stormwater. It’s the first step to making laneways green.

PS – The company that sells PermaTurf is NOT owned by any of my family, friends, colleagues or acquaintances. Nor am I or anyone I know receiving any payment or benefit for writing about their product.  I found them on the internet. More about the product & some photos at – http://www.permaturf.com/specs.htm

 

A section of the new footpath work & verge gardens along Livingstone Road Marrickville. Changing all our footpaths & verges to something like this & planting trees will dramatically reduce stormwater runoff & reduce the heat island effect

When the environment is your interest, you get to read masses of articles about the subject. A good 90% of them are very concerning with many extremely concerning.  Every now & then I reach a point where I think it’s just too difficult. There is so much pollution, death & destruction & only relatively small pockets of people doing anything about it. Even then, it’s always a struggle to get others involved & to get the authorities/organizations/governments to take notice, take action & make the necessary changes.

Climate change denial is an exception as there are huge groups of people & corporations spending obscene amounts of money to get the message out that global warming is hysterical nonsense that should not be believed & they are winning.  Unfortunately for their cause of perpetuating human ignorance, selfishness & consumerism, the temperature in first world countries is playing up.  Recently California experienced ridiculously hot temperatures that made people question whether the climate change scientists have actually got it right. It’s hard to convince people that nothing is wrong when it’s 118 degrees Fahrenheit (47.7 degrees) for days on end in Los Angeles.

Global warming has been affecting people & the environment in third world countries for years, but their situation has been largely ignored by first world governments.

The authorities/organizations/governments rely on the fatigue that hits people who are working for the environment (or almost any other cause) as they think they will get tired & drop off & then everything can return back to the status quo.

Solar panels on the roof of Tillman Street Childcare Centre in Tempe. They look good to me.

So it was with this feeling of fatigue that I came across the following.  It is actually a call to join in on 10:10:10, which is a ‘Global Work Party’ happening on 10th October 2010 organised by www.350.org. So far 6,127 carbon-cutting events will take place in 187 countries to raise awareness about global warming.  Participants are trying to get the governments of the world to commit to reduce CO2 levels back to 350ppm. Right now CO2 levels are at 390ppm & rising.

It’s hard work. Even the US White House was refusing to get solar power panels until this week.  That they are going to put solar panels on the White House is seen as a huge act on behalf of the US government, where in fact I think it’s something that should have been done ages ago as a matter of course, not something that a large amount of people had to campaign for months to achieve.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to share something about the environment that is uplifting & actually empowering. It’s a ‘visual essay,’ so it’s easy & fun to read & the message is a good one. Each one of us can do something that will make a difference.

What Can One Person Do, When 6.8 Billion Are Frying The Planet?

http://www.frankejames.com/debate/?p=1896

Livingstone Road Marrickville was kerb-to-edge concrete until recent new work by Marrickville Council

Marrickville Council is removing & replacing the concrete footpath along Livingstone Road Marrickville & I am pleased to report that they are making large garden beds at regular intervals for new trees & around existing trees.

The garden beds will not only help street trees to survive & to grow well, they will also help to lessen the Heat Island Effect & help trap stormwater before it reaches the gutter.  The work is only in its infancy, but will significantly improve the streetscape of one of the major gateways to Marrickville.

Permeable paving in the car park of Tom Foster Community Centre - as hard as concrete by much better for the environment

We recently went to a free 2-hour solar power workshop organized by The Watershed, a sustainability resource centre, which is a joint initiative between City of Sydney & Marrickville councils.

It was a great workshop. If you want to know about solar power, I would recommend you attend.  I went in knowing only the basics about solar power & walked out around 2 hours later knowing a lot more about how solar power works, the issues regarding installment & the government rebates as well as confident to make a choice from the plethora of companies out there that install solar panels.  What I found particularly good was the 2 trainers allowed questions throughout the training session.

It was a full house with about 50 participants. Courses are popular so don’t delay making a booking. We got in by being on a cancellation list.

Courtyard of the Tom Foster Community Centre

This workshop was held at the Tom Foster Community Centre – 11-13 Darley Street, Newtown. The car park has recently been paved with permeable paving & it looks fantastic. Visually, this material is far nicer & softer on the eye than concrete. It’s more expensive, but the benefits of stopping stormwater run-off make it well worth the cost.  It’s quite a large car park as well.  So if you were thinking of having a look at this product for a courtyard or a driveway, here is a decent-sized patch that will allow you to see how it looks in large spaces.

The Watershed runs workshops on a range of sustainability issues & all are free. The Watershed shopfront 
is at 218 King Street
Newtown.  Opening hours are – Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 4pm & Thursdays 10am – 7pm.  Phone: 9519 6366

Taken from the barrier around Council works in Steele Park Marrickville South

Around 85% of rainwater that falls on a typical large city will flow into stormwater drains. Our stormwater drains in Marrickville LGA are around 100 years old &, in many areas, totally incapable of managing heavy or prolonged rain. Now that more people will be moving into the area, our ancient drains are going to become a significant problem. Replacing them is a costly nightmare.

Usual type of road flooding in the Inner West

By their nature cities cause stormwater problems because the majority of the surfaces are covered by concrete or bitumen.  You only need to drive around Marrickville LGA when it is raining to see that the stormwater drains cannot cope when it rains.  Substantial volume of water builds up along gutters.  In a heavy downpour many of the streets of the Inner West become dangerously flooded. Half a road can be 30 cms deep in water.  While in the short-term this is great for any nearby street trees, it is not so great for infrastructure, the Cooks River or the safety of drivers.

Many cities worldwide have the problem of old & inadequate stormwater drains. Some of them are tackling the problem in a simple but creative way by replacing bitumen & cement with permeable surfaces. The US city of Chicago has started a Green Alley Program. Mind you, environmental programs that address global warming & create a sustainable, more livable city, are fast making Chicago the ‘greenest’ city in the world.

New permeable paths recently created by Marrickville Council in Steele Park Marrickville South

Chicago’s Green Alley Program established in 2007 is laying permeable surfaces in their 3,058 km (1,900 miles) of alleyways. All up this amounts to 14,163,997 sq metres (3,500 acres) of impermeable concrete in 13,000 alleys. These figures make it much easier for me to imagine the positive impact.

Another issue for Chicago was untreated stormwater flowing into Lake Michigan, affecting water quality.

Permeable surfaces prevent around 80% of water from rushing into stormwater drains by allowing most of the rainfall to flow naturally into the ground. This is important for many reasons, including topping up the groundwater table.

Impermeable surfaces are replaced with crushed rocks, recycled slag or recycled crushed concrete, or, with pavers designed to channel water into the ground. Alleys are still suitable for use by all sorts of vehicles, including bikes & by pedestrians. They won’t become muddy or trap cars in boggy ground.

Additionally, the products that make permeable surfaces in the green alleys are light in colour (high albedo) with light reflecting qualities. They reflect rather than absorb sunlight, significantly lessening the Heat Island Effect.  They also make dark areas brighter at night, as they reflect moonlight & potentiate any street lighting.

Permeable path in Sydney Park

What I find really exciting about Chicago’s Green Alley Program is that they see green alleys as an improvement to people’s quality-of-life.  They work with the cooperation of residents to encourage use of alleys  as an extension of living space where appropriate. Obviously some alleys are frequented by traffic, but others are a rarely frequented space used mainly for the placement of garbage bins. We have the same situation in Marrickville LGA as well as the old ‘dunny runs.’

Chicago encourages planting small bird-friendly native gardens along the edges of alleys & also encourages planting shade trees at the back of people’s property to create shade in the alley. Where it’s appropriate they install rain gardens to capture roof water from a downward pipe that would usually channel rainwater collected from the roof onto the road surface. They also install water tanks & bio-swales where appropriate.

Most alleys have community compost bins for everyone to use.

Expensive? Well yes & no. Obviously staff time is expensive, but there are many ways to start employment programs where the costs are kept down whist giving people a chance to learn a skill. Rainwater tanks are expensive, but this could change.  I imagine bio-swales are expensive to create, however a small rain garden isn’t & the plants could be grown at the community nursery.  Good topsoil around the edges of alleys to encourage residents to plant the area & care for it isn’t too expensive either.

Permeable surfaces in Chicago alleys were costed at around US$45/sq yard.  This has got to be comparable with laying impermeable surfaces.

Chicago alleys have become places where people sit in the sun (or shade) & talk with their neighbours. The alleys stop being places where potential thieves walk to case entry points. Beauty comes into what are often ugly & neglected areas full of rubbish.

Back lanes are often cool places because the wind travels freely unhampered by tall walls. Imagine if they were a nice place to sit, an extension of your back garden.  It’s what they do in many places overseas & have done for hundreds of years. Often new arrivals to Australia find it strange that everyone either sits inside or in their private back garden. They are used to sitting on the porch or near the street so they can say hello to everyone & greet passersby.  Laneways can become places like this. There is no reason why the end or the edges can’t become a community garden. This will offer urban wildlife more sources of food if any planting includes natives.

A typical laneway complete with dumped rubbish

I think we get conditioned to accept the status quo. We view laneways as utility places even when the utility has stopped decades ago. We periodically clean them & store garbage bins there, except in those lanes where this has been prohibited.  Graffiti artists have recognized the need for laneways to be spruced up, though their method may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

2010 recorded the hottest temperature world-wide since they started recording temperature. All the experts believe the heat will get worse which means the Heat Island Effect will get worse.  We will find we are roasting in the oven we created.  I think a time will come when people will willingly rip up the stamped concrete that surrounds their house because power costs to cool our homes will be very expensive & we will be forced to embrace new ways of living.  Actually, they are the old ways of living before King Concrete began its reign.

Recently we visited Leamington Avenue Newtown & as we drove there we saw something fantastic.  Either NSW Rail Corp or City of Sydney Council has erected a concrete wall between the raised section of the railway line and the nearby houses, presumably as a sound barrier for the neighbourhood.  What makes this so fantastic is, it is not just a concrete wall or a decorated concrete wall, it’s a green wall.

Green wall along the rail line behind Leamington Avenue Newtown

At regular intervals, steel mesh going up 5-6 meters high has been attached along the wall & Chinese Jasmine is growing.  Not only does this make the wall look good, but the vines are designed to cut down the Heat Island Effect created by the sun bouncing off the concrete.  When the Chinese Jasmine flowers around Christmas it will look spectacular & smell great as well.

This is such a simple & cheap intervention, which begs the question, why this isn’t done elsewhere as the norm?

On 26th August 2010 a letter written by Clr Marcri was published in the Inner West Courier.  In this letter he said he wanted “to set the record straight in regard to my role in the approvals process for the Marrickville RSL site development.”

He went on to say “I think it is a landmark development that shows confidence in the future of Marrickville.” He said the development was approved both by Marrickville Council & the JRPP. He also said “Design is subjective,” going on to say that the development was designed by an award-winning architect.

Andrew Woodhouse, President of the Australian Heritage Institute wrote a reply that was published in the Inner West Courier on 2nd September 2010.  Mr Woodhouse wrote “It’s about time Clr Macri was told. He tries to sweep away design objections to the proposed bulbous Marrickville RSL saying design is of course subjective as though anyone’s views are valid but no-one’s view counts. He is wrong.”

Mr Woodhouse then wrote about various factors of measurable design excellence & said, “On all accounts this mega-project fails.” I agree.  My impression was that all those who spoke against the project at the JRPP Meeting were against the design aspects of this building & judging by the applause after every speaker so were the large group of local residents who attended. Why would the JRPP listen to the community when the development had been endorsed by Marrickville Council?

Marrickville ex-Councilor Colin Hesse, who attended the JRPP meeting was the first to write to the Inner West Courier about this development.  The letter was titled, ‘7 Storey Disaster.” He wrote “The approval of the massive 7 storey development of the old Marrickville RSL club has set a shocking precedent for Marrickville ..” He also mentioned “..genuine community participation  & is based on sustainability.”

It’s not my aim to go on about the development on the old Marrickville RSL site because it is going to happen & there is nothing we can do to prevent this.  What I do want to discuss is the information Clr Macri’s letter gave the community.

He said Marrickville Council approved this development & that “this building under the new LEP will be an underdevelopment. …“ Add these statements to his earlier statement of “… it is a landmark development that shows confidence in the future of Marrickville.” & it tells me that Marrickville Council fully intends to give the okay to many more developments that not only look like the development for the old Marrickville RSL site, but are as high, as dense & bulky as this is.  I am worried.

Clr Marcri also gives notice that the new Draft LEP about to be released for public consultation will not be making green buildings or green design mandatory.  I think this is very important when you consider that Marrickville, Illawarra & Petersham Roads will become between 6-9 storeys high with 13 storeys recommended for the old Marrickville Hospital site.

We have known Marrickville is going to change as well as other areas around the LGA, but designs that are compatible with the old pre-climate change/ pre-global warming paradigm is not something I am happy about.  When I see green walls for a railway line wall, yet the newest residential building declared a landmark & most likely used as a benchmark for future development has 180 air-conditioned units, not counting the retail space & 4 street trees along the Illawarra Road frontage & none for Byrnes Road I feel a little …..  When I remember the dismissive attitude to solar panels & a green roof during the JRPP meeting my blood starts to boil.

Another view of the green wall along the railway line in Newtown. It has made a back lane that was probably full of graffiti tags & rubbish look lovely

I’m a realist. I know Sydney as a whole is going to change. I read last year that the NSW state government wanted the industrial area next to Marrickville Metro to hold around 9,000 plus residences. Don’t quote me on this. I didn’t save the article & I cannot find anything about it now, though I know I didn’t dream it as I have spoken to a couple of others who also knew of this plan.

I was told that a recent application to have the area rezoned residential was unsuccessful.  I’ll predict here that this area will be rezoned residential one day in the not-too-distant future & I bet AMP Capital anticipate this, like the M6 planed someday for Edgeware Road just 1 block away.

High-rise residential is coming to Marrickville LGA & it will be dense & tall. Now that the world is talking about global warming & climate change wouldn’t you think that both the Council & the architects would make the shift to the new paradigm when designing new buildings meant to last the next 60-100 years?  If not, why not?  Why has Marrickville Council said any development for the old Marrickville Hospital site has to be a 6-star sustainability rating & yet they have not required this for any other high-rise residential building across the LGA.  I’m baffled.

The signage for the development at the old Marrickville RSL is, “The Revolution Begins.” We need our Council to ensure that the ‘Revolution’ follows the climate change paradigm that insists future developers create a true revolution by designing green buildings.

Green walls are not rocket science, yet their benefits are outstanding. Heat is not reflected thereby lowering the Heat Island Effect. They lengthen the life of concrete, they look good, they improve the streetscape & make ugly areas pretty, the prevent or significantly reduce graffiti & they are almost as good as trees in the benefits they bring. Psychologically they would do much to break down the oppressive feelings tall buildings can often bring.  Lastly, they are cheap to create.

You can read Clr Marci’s letter here – Opinion page 19 – http://digitaledition-innerwest.innerwestcourier.com.au/?iid=39854

You can read Andrew Woodhouse’s letter here – page 23 – http://digitaledition-innerwest.innerwestcourier.com.au/?iid=40124

You can read Colin Hesse’s letter here – page 17 – http://digitaledition-innerwest.innerwestcourier.com.au/?iid=39608

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