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Ascrete road surface in Cecilia Street Marrickville.  I've never inderstood why Marrickville Council has not planted a tree in this island in this very wide intersection or in the very large area of footpath in partially visible in the foreground.

Ascrete road surface in Cecilia Street Marrickville. 

Something interesting is happening in Cecilia Street Marrickville, a short street off Petersham Road directly opposite the Marrickville Town Hall. Marrickville Council has covered the road surface with ‘Ascrete,’ a solar reflecting road surface with the aim to reduce the urban heat island effect in this street.

Monash University, working through Marrickville Council’s ‘Water Sensitive Cities’ partnership, took temperature measurements over one-week in January 2016. The City Of Sydney & Canada Bay Council are also trialing the product.

Ascrete road surface - a closer look

Ascrete road surface  – a closer look

Climate stations were still attached to poles on both sides of the road when I last went a couple of weeks ago.

“Resealing Cecilia Street with Ascrete pavement cost approximately $90 per m² (finished product, for a project sized 810m²).”

As a road surface it looks good. If the product is deemed effective, it will be a positive approach to combating the urban heat island effect. We have so many hard surfaces in Marrickville municipality, with much of them being roads.  It is well known that dark surfaces & asphalt roads collect & retain heat. Any surface that reflects heat & does not retain it will help keep our environment cooler & livable.

One of two climate stations in Cecilia Street Marrickville

One of two climate stations in Cecilia Street Marrickville

In 2015 Marrickville Council created new verge gardens on both sides of Dickson Street Newtown.  Recently these were planted on a community planting day.  It looks great.

In 2015 Marrickville Council created new verge gardens on both sides of Dickson Street Newtown. They were planted on a community planting day. It looks great, even though this photo was taken before the plants went into the ground.

Verge gardens are becoming really popular in many places around the world because they not only have the potential to add significant beauty to the streetscape, but they help lower the urban heat island effect.

Climate change is causing local councils & planners to have a concerted look on how to adapt to the changes climate change will bring & how to keep cities livable. Heat events are of serious concern because they can result in hundreds of deaths.

Cities (this includes the suburbs in a city) can be hot places because of the volume of hard surfaces that literally absorb heat from sunlight & trap it within the hard surfaces keeping it there overnight.

Thankfully Marrickville Council is promoting verge gardens. They actively encourage the community to take charge of their own, as well as creating new verge gardens everywhere where they need to replace the concrete footpath. This is excellent & already the changes in some streetscapes around the municipality are showing the positive impact on Council’s initiative.

City of Sydney Council has embraced verge gardens with fervour.   An increasing number of street corners have been reclaimed from the road & given over to verge gardens. Reclaiming the road slows traffic, assists pedestrians & allows the beautification of the streetscape. Depaving hard surfaces is a major part of lowering the heat island effect across the municipality.

So I was surprised & disappointed when I read of the destruction of a verge garden by the Town of Cambridge Council in Western Australia. The verge garden is large at 250-square-metres & is in the suburb of Wembley, about 5kms from Perth CBD.

The couple had created an eco-friendly verge garden on a corner over a period of 13-years following the Council’s guidelines. According to the article, their neighbour complained to the council about this verge garden on many occasions.

The verge garden contained “more than 3000 plants & represented more than $50,000 in labour and materials costs.”  This is quite substantial.

This is the second time the Town of Cambridge Council has destroyed this particular verge garden. Three years ago they destroyed $12,000 worth of irrigation on the verge. The photo in the article shows a bare patch of land left behind. Even when you see the photos it is hard to believe that any local council would do this.

The article says the verge was water-wise & maintained on a weekly basis by a professional gardener. The verge garden was appreciated by passersby & the local community – until a new neighbour moved in.

The neighbour “explained to us very clearly that he didn’t like native plants & that we must remove them. We explained it was our verge & he was entitled to do what he wished with his. At that time we did not realise how determined this man was.”

The Town of Cambridge said, “The Town supports beautification of verges & water wise initiatives however, in this case, due to ongoing complaints & for safety reasons, the Town had no option but to act. A minimalist approach was taken in removing items to make the verge safe, & we believe the outcome is a compromise situation which should be acceptable to the resident, whilst protecting the safety of the public.”

Have a look at the photos & read the article. Then make up your own mind just how dangerous to the public this verge garden was. You can read the article & see a number of photos here –

Personally, I think this was an outrageous act of the council to destroy this verge garden. If there actually were any components that were dangerous to the public, then the residents should have been given official notification to remove these hazards within a specific time-frame. That would have been the reasonable response. What was not reasonable was for the council to destroy the garden leaving a patch of bare dirt behind.

It must have been devastating for the residents & also would have sent a loud message out to the rest of the Wembley municipality not to bother creating verge gardens when the council responds like this. Understandably the residents whose verge garden it was will not be trying again. The dustbowl created by the council will remain.

I guarantee Perth will be pushing for verge gardens to become the norm as climate change accelerates. They are already experiencing problems with heat & water.

Yesterday I read this post from John Carey Mayor of the City of Vincent in Perth – There has been a lot of controversy about some local governments forcing the removal of garden verges. At the City of Vincent we love that residents green their verges & want more of it!  Our Council has created the Adopt A Verge program – we will dig up your verge, mulch it & provide you native garden vouchers.  It’s all about cooling and greening our streets – and making them more people friendly.  The program has been so popular we have a waiting list – but we aim to put more funds in. Join us!”

That this post has had nearly 2,000 likes & 275 shares at the time of writing shows how keen the community are about verge gardens.

This is a vastly different attitude & Mayor Carey should be applauded for his enthusiasm & support of verge gardens. Kudos also to the City of Vincent’s method of encouraging & supporting the community to start verge gardens. This kind of initiative is what changes the culture from one that is anti-nature to one that embraces a greener environment that benefits all. Verge gardens make our streets cooler, add beauty when there was often none before. They bring in wildlife & birdsong & create places where people like to meet. They also provide soft learning opportunities for local schools.

Verge gardens are a no-brainer. Hopefully the program of creating more verge gardens carries on if Marrickville Council does have to amalgamate with Ashfield & Leichhardt Councils.

Photo of a verge garden by Mayor John Carey City of Vincent Council Perth Western Australia.  Used with thanks.

Photo of a verge garden by Mayor John Carey City of Vincent Council, Perth Western Australia. Used with thanks.










A small section of the glorious living green wall outside the new Cbus tower in Sydney CBD

A small section of the glorious living green wall outside the Cbus tower in Sydney CBD

Yesterday the ABC published a great article called – Concrete Jungle.  In it there was some very interesting information about green walls & green roofs in Sydney.

  • There are already 75 green roofs in the City of Sydney LGA.
  • The City of Sydney Council receives at least one DA for a green roof every week.
  • They want to increase green roof coverage to 23.5% by 2030.

The article includes two short videos that are worth watching.  The first is about the green roofs & the benefits that these spaces bring to the people in the city.

The second video speaks about the green walls & microclimates of the green walls in the One Central Park Broadway development currently being constructed.  One of the central walls on the south side of this development is the biggest green wall constructed to date at 14-storeys tall & 4-metres wide.  The buildings also have 5-kilometres of balcony gardens.

Apart from the beauty of the green walls in the One Central Park development, where every façade – 1,000 square metres – will become ‘a veil of green,’ it is the cantilever terrace that projects out into the air that most fascinates me.  This space will have a small pool, flowering trees & a private garden where residents of the top 5 floors can go to relax & take in the panoramic views.  Talk about a selling point.

Whenever I think about green walls & green roofs I think of the development happening at the old RSL site in Marrickville called ‘The Revolution.’  At the Joint Regional Planning Panel meeting about this development, an angry crowd of about 100 local residents listened to the Architect answer three questions, one being – Had you considered a green roof?”  His answer was, “Not an environmental mandate.  You have to water a green roof. To what end is pumping water up to the roof?” 

The research I did on the requirements of watering green roofs found this simple explanation from Alive Structures –

Extensive green roof (3-7 inches of soil) – No, however the roof will need to be watered occasionally during the first year of establishment just like any landscape. But after the first year the plants can sustain themselves, with the only watering exceptions in extreme periods of drought.

Intensive (8 inches + of soil) – Yes. Since an intensive green roof can accommodate a large variety of plants, shrubs and trees, their watering requirements are higher than succulents and herbs. Intensive green roofs generally have an irrigation system installed.

This DA decision for ‘The Revolution’ was at the tail-end of the period of currency of the old Marrickville Local Environment Plan (LEP) & the Development Control Plan 2010 (DCP).  Many in the community hoped that green roofs & walls, decent green space & decent sized trees in the development would be a requirement for high-rise development in the next LEP & DCP as these were to take us through the next 25-years.  It failed to eventuate.

The next time I saw a plan for a green roof was for the new Marrickville Library. That plan consisted of covering the roof with long straw-like grass & using the same long grass for the land out front of the Library, which many in the community had hoped would become a new small park.   This space was not usable for the public, so it wasn’t a surprise that this particular design was not chosen.

So City of Sydney powers ahead in yet another environmental area, while we have to rely on the benevolence of Architects & developers as to whether they will include such green features in the high-rise development to come – & there will be a lot of it.

The argument that City of Sydney Council has more money does not stand up here, because it is the developer who pays the cost of building the developments.  Their planning guidelines promote the environmentally-friendly options.

Housing is at a premium & whatever is built is sold.  Whether it is mediocre housing or great housing is the question.  One Central Park is at the premium end of housing, but there are another 74 green roofs elsewhere in the City of Sydney municipality.  They can’t all be premium.

You can read the article & watch the videos here –

I took a screen shot directly from the ABC News article - with thanks.  Note what is happening in Brisbane with 51% canopy & 2-million trees planted over a 4-year period.  Very impressive.

This is a screen shot directly from the ABC News article – link above – with thanks.  Note what is happening in Brisbane with 51% canopy & 2-million trees planted over a 4-year period. Very impressive.

China Town Sydney is a cool & beautiful oasis on a hot day

I recently read an article on Sydney Council’s plan to change Thomas Street in China Town into a new green public art space. The Council plans to close off Thomas Street to traffic & plant gardens & a number of tall-growing trees.  Sydney Council says they want Thomas Street to be an area of “reflection & contemplation.”  It will be called the New Century Garden & will house permanent sculptures, as well as temporary sculptural exhibitions.

Last summer I went to China Town for the first time in at least a decade & was shocked to see 3-storey high Hills Figs growing the length of the main street of China Town.  It was a very hot day & the place was cool & shaded. It was also quite beautiful.

What Sydney Council plans for Thomas Street is just one of the many plans they have for China Town & almost all involve the planting of tall shady trees.  As I said in a recent post, not everything Sydney Council does or plans to do can be attributed to their financial ability. What is really important is that they have an attitude that is pro public trees, pro green spaces & pro green verges. They also intend to increase their urban forest by 50% in both the CBD & in their suburbs by 2030.

Like so many other cities worldwide, they are trying to prepare the City of Sydney LGA for the impact of global warming by making it a more livable & sustainable city & area. They are even changing the species of trees they plant. Trees that provide more shade to help lower the urban heat island effect & trees that will cope with the changes in temperature & growing conditions.

Thomas Street as it is now. Image sourced from City Hub newspaper

Thomas Street as it will look after the upgrade. Image sourced from City Hub newspaper

Happy concrete

I have mentioned recently that Portland Oregon in the US has for a while been my number one favourite with all things environmental in an urban environment.  If it can be done & improves the livability of the environment, they do it.  If it extends the life of a street tree, they do it.  If it improves stormwater management, they do it.  They also have what appears to be large community interest & involvement with a thriving community of volunteers across many programs that better the urban environment.  Portland shows the rest of us what can be done.

The latest that I have discovered is depaving.  There is a push coming from the community to remove unnecessary concrete in urban environments for the following reasons –

  • It’s ugly & not seen as conducive to creating livable cities.
  • It’s bad for stormwater management. Hard surfaces increase stormwater, over-burden drains & carry large amounts of ground pollution to rivers, lakes & oceans.
  • Impervious surfaces prevent much of the rainwater seeping into & refilling the groundwater table.
  • Impervious surfaces increase the Heat Island Effect making our environment hotter than it needs to be resulting in increased power usage just to cool our buildings.
  • Concreted surfaces have destroyed habitat & made whole areas unsuitable for urban wildlife.
  • In some cases these kind of surfaces have disconnected people from the natural world. Some people see concrete as ‘clean’ & fallen leaves as ‘dirty.’ This creates a cycle where more & more trees in gardens & along streets are seen as pests & either removed or vandalized.  Once the overall canopy is lessened, the Heat Island Effect grows, power use also grows, but what doesn’t grow is urban wildlife who has fewer places of habitat & food supplies.

Thankfully street trees were planted last year in this vast area of new asphalt in Camperdown. The photo doesn't show it, but the pavement is at least 5 metres across with plenty of room for gardens

Paul Sheehan wrote the following for the Sydney Morning Herald in July 2009 –  “You, reader, live in a primitive city. In a hundred years from now, the society we are building will look back & marvel at how little we really understood about the world we have constructed for ourselves.

We are stewing in our own juices.

Last Wednesday, a night of driving rain, I attended a seminar where more than 100 professionals, a standing room-only crowd, had gathered to learn about practical, cheap, achievable ways of stopping Sydney’s pot from simmering. These were not wide-eyed utopians. In purely parochial terms, the heating of our biggest cities is even bigger than the global warming debate. Because the rise in temperature is mostly & demonstrably caused by outdated thinking.

The story starts on Observatory Hill, at the southern end of the Harbour Bridge, where weather records have been kept daily since 1860. What the observatory has recorded is a rise in the average temperature at the centre of Sydney from 20.5 degrees to 22 degrees. As Sydney grows, Sydney slowly heats.

At last Wednesday’s seminar we learnt why – 27% of the surface of the metropolitan area is covered by bitumen, the black tar which soaks & retains heat & thus changes the city’s climate.

Nearly all the rainwater run-off on this 27% of the city is lost to productive use, flowing into Sydney Harbour because it is designed that way. The city’s rooftops also gather heat. Roads & pavements maximise the waste of arable land. Tree-planting is stunted for legal reasons. Topsoil is “scalped” by roadworks. The increasing use of air-conditioners is creating more energy. More heat begets more heat.”

There is much more to this article, including the work Landscape Architect Micheal Mobbs & his neighbours are doing to green & cool the residential streets of Chippendale –

I wrote about Micheal Mobbs & his green verges here –

Great use of stormwater, but not very efficient

People & local Councils have paved whatever they could since the late 70s.  It was a movement of convenience as concrete is easier to drive on, easier to walk along & easier to clean with a hose.  The main beneficiaries were people with a disability who need flat surfaces to get around & parents with prams.

I believe we need to continue to provide safe & easy access for everyone & there is much need for improvement in this area. Just last month I watched a man in a wheelchair who was forced to travel along the road next to Petersham Town Hall with the cars because there were no wheelchair ramps on the high kerbs at all 4 corners of the cross road.  There must be many such areas like this that make wheelchair travel dangerous & difficult.

Leaving aside wheelchair & pram accessible footpaths & kerbs, many government authorities overseas think that concrete worship has gone too far &, because of the above negative effects, are rethinking their concreting practices of the past.

Most car parks do not need to have concrete or asphalt/bitumen. They can easily be compacted permeable surfaces allowing stormwater to travel into the ground to the water table rather than into 100-plus-year-old drains. Permeable surfaces actually need less maintenance than do impervious bitumen surfaces & therefore are cheaper in the long run.  Appropriate trees can be planted within the parking spaces improving the visual outlook & also helping with stormwater & pollution uptake.

Footpaths do not need to be wall to kerb, except in shopping strips where a greater use of the footpath space is required or where the space between building & kerb is unusually narrow.

This was a very popular landscaping idea in the 1990's. Cement pavers with pebbles or mondo grass in between allowed walking, but let the water drain away.

Marrickville Council is adept in building bio-swales & rain gardens. There is no reason why a small rain garden or two cannot be built within a car park if there is a reasonable flow of water from nearby buildings & from the lie of the land when it rains.

I suspect these ideas will be dismissed in most areas of Australia as ‘too greenie’ because of the convenience of paved surfaces. However, in a few years depaving will be the norm because of the worldwide push to restore groundwater, lessen the Heat Island Effect, restore habitat & make cities more livable.

Although many governments are stalling any real action on climate change, some overseas already depave, create green space & plant more trees in public spaces in cities because they know what is coming. It is like a slow culture change. Once we get used to these changes back to softer infrastructure, we will cope with the bigger changes of gravel lanes & fewer paved surfaces.

If we can create a balance where people who require flat surfaces for mobility can have this, but remove unnecessary hard surfaces & green up, we will have a much cooler, prettier, more environmentally friendly & wildlife habitable environment to live in.  It doesn’t take much to create a huge improvement on many levels.

Here is a 4-minute film where the Portland community removed 278.7 sq metres (3,000 sq feet) of asphalt to create a community space with a perennial food forest.

Many hundreds of cars use this car park to busy shops in Croydon 7 days a week. Cars are sheltered from the sun under Ornamental Pear trees, there are garden spaces where the trees are, red gravel allows the water to pass into the ground. There are no tyre troughs or dips & it is easy to walk on. Your car is cool when you return from shopping & it is visually pretty making the shopping area look more inviting. (Ignore the imprisoned tree. It's far to late for it now)




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