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Glebe Point Road, about 2.5 kms from Sydney CBD & full of trees

I recently visited Glebe Point Road & noted how lovely & green the shopping strip looked.

Glebe Point Road is in the City of Sydney Council LGA. Glebe has always been a heavily treed area & the canopy includes Glebe Point Road.  Most of the street trees I first saw as a young woman are still there.

In the last couple of years Sydney Council has planted extra street trees along Glebe Point Road as part of a major makeover of the shopping strip.  These trees were 4 metre high when they were planted.  This had an instant greening effect & must have prevented vandalism.  There are permeable surfaces around all the street trees level with the footpath. Large mature trees such as Camphor laurels have been retained & gracefully create a canopy across the road.

Showing benches facing each other so people can meet, hang around & talk. This is placemaking. The benches are not connected to a cafe. Below the hanging baskets is a bike rack

Two years ago I noticed that very large hanging baskets filled with red Begonias were installed at regular intervals along both sides of Glebe Point Road.  These flowering baskets are vibrant & beautify the streetscape.  I am unaware whether the Begonias are replaced at intervals or pruned periodically to allow for new growth, but after at least 2 years they are continuing to bloom.  I’m taking a guess that they are Begonia acutifolia, which will grow in full sun & pretty much flower all year. I applaud City of Sydney Council for this initiative.

The hanging baskets full of Begonias is a relatively cheap way to add colour & beauty & it would be great if Marrickville Council copied this.  Imagine hanging baskets of flowers all along King Street & along our other main shopping strips. Begonias can be easily propagated from leaf cuttings.

The revamp of Glebe Point Road has other great features.  The footpath has been widened in parts & street trees that grow to a significant height have been planted in these areas. Widening the footpath overcomes the presence of shop awnings, a common problem in Sydney when it comes to street trees.  It also allows a wider area for pedestrians & for areas where café/restaurant seating can be provided without impacting on passing pedestrians.  A few car park spaces have been lost, but the overall benefit outweighs this loss.

Showing the arty bench which I love & the street tree with a reasonable sized trunk & permeable surface

City of Sydney Council has also installed a number of great looking park benches.  They are artistic in form & eye-catching.  My guess is that these would be more expensive than the usual bench designs, but they too are worth it.  Small things like these ‘dress up’ the street & beautify the streetscape. Once a street becomes better looking, graffiti tags lessen. Research on the whole has found that the more dowdy the area, the more tags there are & the more difficult it is to prevent repeat tagging.

Although Glebe Point Road has always been a shopping destination, the presence of nearby Broadway would have had a massive impact on the smaller shops when it was built, just like what will happen if the Marrickville Metro expansion goes ahead.  Sydney Council has fought back by making Glebe Point Road a pretty pIace to shop. The Glebe Markets held there in the school playground with lots of tall shady trees also draws the crowds.

I believe people are more likely to visit shopping strips that keep with the times & look good. If the strip is ugly, people go elsewhere. City of Sydney Council have achieved a good balance of beauty & convenience at Glebe Point Road. It is also a friendly place for the residents & must encourage them to do their shopping on Glebe Point Road.

Outside Glebe Markets. Both the colourful fence & the hanging baskets look fabulous

Sydenham Green before the upgrade- the placement of the benches was interesting

The upgrade of the front section of Sydenham Green along Unwins Bridge Road in Tempe was completed a couple of weeks ago.  This park has always puzzled me in that there are relatively few trees for the space. Sydenham Green seems to have been designed with a Placemaking idea behind it as there is an obviously designated meeting place in the centre of the park. This section is quite theatrical with an amphitheatre & a great arch. There is a giant teapot, kettle & a giant lounge that offers stepped seating.  I guess these represent home & pay tribute to the homes that were once here before they were demolished due to extreme noise from planes taking off & landing.  Much of the artwork is painted & fired tiles made by local school children & they are great, well worth a look.  I have been there a number of times & it is always empty.  Maybe because it is hot.

The entrance to Sydenham Green opposite the St Peters-Sydenham Library is the section of the park that was most puzzling to me.  It was, until recently, a large area of grass, a couple of Gum trees & a large section of terracotta coloured pavers & grass that had benches placed in & around it.  It puzzled me because I couldn’t work out why the seats had been placed in that particular way & why this layout was deemed inviting.

I thought that the best things about this section of the park was a row of Callistemon that lined the front edge of the park.  I also quite like the sculpture that tells of the history of Sydenham Green & I love that it has a natural birdbath carved into the sandstone.

Today we went to have a look at the finished upgrade.  Hmmmm.  We did not think it good-looking, but this is only a matter of personal taste.  Maybe plenty of other people will think it looks good.

The problem I have is that Marrickville Council removed the permeable hard & soft surfaces & replaced them with hard, impermeable surfaces – concrete & black bitumen.  This will make the area hotter than before & ensure that the stormwater runs off instead of the rain soaking into the ground as it did previously.

Council has also removed the row of bird-feeding Callistemon replacing them with grasses, some other small growing plants & 2 Crepe myrtle trees, none of which provide food for birds.

Should we care about this?  I believe we should.  So many food sources for urban wildlife have been removed over decades due to urbanisation.  Current garden trends are removing even more.  I believe that it is incumbent on Councils to ensure that they plant sufficient food sources for urban wildlife all over the place; in car parks, as street trees & especially in parks.  If there are insufficient food sources our urban wildlife will slowly disappear. Most of them just can’t move to another area.  Plant a couple of Grevilleas or Red Flowering Gums & watch the increase of birds. They arrive in large numbers. It’s a happy sound.

An ornamental wall has been built at the front with the name of the park in silver letters.  Clear, visible letters is great.  The benches are back in a new configuration & now you have to choice of facing the grass or the bitumen.

8 Crepe myrtle & 8 Lilly pilly trees have been planted.  2 Lilly pillys have already died.  The trees were not planted near the benches, nor are they of a species that will create shade so the place will remain hot. Time will tell whether it remains empty.

The 2 Prunus trees on the footpath have either been replaced or have come back to life after they were vandalised.

The design layout is an improvement of what was previously there, but the choice of both ground surface materials & tree species fail to meet the needs of this era of climate change.  I am confident in saying this because all recent literature about urban landscaping & placemaking speaks about such simple things as using albedo surfaces & planting sufficient shade-producing trees to make a cool environment that is not only useable for the community, but actually encourages them to go there.

See what you think. I have put up a 1.47 minute YouTube video of the works at Sydenham Green here –

Sydenham Green after the upgrade


Marrickville Council has reconfigured the kerb to allow better growth for 9 mature Camphor laurel trees in Metropolitan Road Enmore. They have also put a permeable surface around the trees up to the trunk that will cope with parked cars as well as let rainwater through to the tree.  Actually, the slope will discourage cars from parking next to the trunk, but if they do, no significant damage will be done.  I would guess that cars have been parking next to the trunks of these trees for decades.

The work done by Council not only looks good, but it also shows that older trees with significant trunks can be saved by changing the kerb, rather than chopping down the tree.

I was also pleased to realize that if Marrickville Council has done all this work for Camphor laurel street trees, they must have discarded their policy of removing this species. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Camphor laurels are listed as a weed.  This is true in rural areas where their seeds are spread by birds, but in urban areas, these trees can’t grow undetected.

It looks like this change in policy will allow the community  to continue to benefit from these large glorious lime-green shade-producing trees, many of which are feature trees in our estate houses.  I am very pleased about this.

Certainly Metropolitan Road looks great with its tall Camphor laurels spreading shade across the road. Council has planted Red Flowering Gums in the spaces between the Camphor laurels.  In time, this street will be filled with bold colour added to the lime-green of the Camphor laurel.  It will be very beautiful.

Permeable surface in Metropolitan Road Enmore.


This is an excellent 5.21-minute YouTube of work by TreePeople, other government agencies & residents who dealt with stormwater flooding on Elmer Avenue in the San Fernando Valley in LA.  Stormwater from a number of streets collected at Elmer Avenue causing flooding & making it dangerous on a number of levels. There were also problems of pollution & drought.

Green verge seen in Botany

To deal with this in an environmentally friendly & sustainable way, all the stakeholders worked together to solve the problem.  The road was dug up & various drains & blue metal installed. This allowed the stormwater to be filtrated & cleaned before entering the groundwater table below.  Before that, the stormwater, ground pollutants & masses of plastic & other litter went straight into the river & the Pacific Ocean. The photos of the plastic pollution are appalling.

Rain gardens that did not look like rain gardens were installed in private front gardens as well as small unobtrusive water tanks. Driveways were made permeable & swales & street trees were planted on what was previously concrete or grass verges.  They even put in solar street lighting because this area had no street lighting.

The result is not only very beautiful & has improved the visual appeal of the neighbourhood, but the area will also be cooler, less polluted & importantly, the stormwater will no longer cause flooding or infrastructure damage. I’d bet that property values were positively impacted as well.   The planning took 5 years, probably because of all the agencies involved, but work to create this took only 1 day because of the community’s involvement.

Instead of patching up 100-year-old pipes & continuing to make roads, footpaths & verges in the same way as has been done for the last 30-40 years, our Councils should be making this type of infrastructure the norm.  It has far more longevity, will lower the Heat Island Effect, is kinder to the environment & creates liveable communities.  It will also result in healthier street trees that will be able to access sufficient water when it rains. Healthier street trees live longer & bring many more benefits than the current expectation of a life-expectancy of 7-15 years, which as I am told is current practice.!

Also in Botany. The more plants & trees you put along streets, the better the area looks & the more benefits there are for people & wildlife

The protest March & the speeches at Alex Trevallion Plaza

The south side of Marrickille Road was blocked for around 20 minutes. A police car escorted around 150-170 shop keepers & residents, along with Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt MP, Clr Morris Hanna, Clr Victor Macri, Clr Mary O’Sullivan & members of Metro Watch as they marched against the proposed Marrickville Metro expansion until they reached Alex Trevallion Plaza.  Almost every marcher was holding a ‘No Marrickville Metro Expansion’ banner so any bi-standers were left with no doubt what the protest march was about.

Clr Hanna addressed the crowd that had assembled in Alex Trevallion Plaza about the many negative impacts the proposed Metro expansion will have on Marrickville shopping strip.  Clr Hanna also said that Marrickville Council has refused to sell Smidmore Street or the airspace to AMP Capital. He spoke about the difficulty the Marrickville shopping strip has with parking & called for something to be done about this.

Carmel Tebbutt said she thought the Metro expansion was totally wrong for this area & did not support it.  She also said that she had asked the NSW Planning Minister that the community can respond by way of further submissions when AMP Capital puts its next proposal in, but said he hasn’t agreed to do this as yet.  She also said she was negotiating a meeting with residents & the Planning Minister to talk about their concerns regarding the proposed expansion.

New trees planted at Alex Trevallion Plaza showing permeable surfaces

The crowd was big, the shops were closed, the police were out in force. It was great to see so many people participate.  It was also nice to see Alex Trevallion Plaza used by a big crowd & to see 5 Eucalypts planted in what appears to be tree pits & with porous surface & permeable paving. The trees add a nice wall of green.

I came across the google street view when searching the correct name of the Alex Trevallion Plaza. It is amazing how much better the Plaza looks now as compared with the time the google camera car drove past a few years ago.  It’s a vast improvement.



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 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) –

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



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 –

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 –


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.

Community tree preservation groups Save Our Figs Wauchope & Save Our Figs Group have a big fight on their hands with Port Macquarie-Hastings Council who intend to remove 13 Fig trees in the town centre “to prevent future damage to private property & public infrastructure.” The roots of the Fig trees are presenting a trip hazard & 3 residents have complained of damage to their property they say was caused by the trees.

These 2 massive Figs next to Marrickville Youth Resources Centre enhance the building & the area.

Thing is, the Council have just completed major works on the streets with the trees described as the centerpiece.  Importantly, 3 years ago the community fought to retain these trees & won.

Now the threat of litigation has reared its head & if history is anything to go by, a very small number of people are going to get their way & have the trees removed.  Council can’t take the risk that people will start litigation in the future.

A couple of days ago I posted that Goondiwindi Regional Council chopped down healthy Fig trees despite community opposition.  It’s the same story.  Now that the trees are gone, the Council has made the decision to spend $96,000 on floating footpaths.  They are doing this now because they, “understand how important these trees are to residents.”

Using floating footpaths means the trees can grow normally. There is no need to cut off or shave down roots, nor cover them in bitumen.  Nor will they need to chop the trees down because of a trip hazard or damage to footpaths. Seems like sensible spending to me.  Given that any large healthy tree can be worth around $100,000, spending money to keep them is a good economic decision.

This Fig is literally holding the building up. There is no visible damage to the exterior of the building

The large street trees in the centre of both these towns are what bring beauty & a sense of place. The towns use their street trees as a tourist draw card.  The Fig trees also provide a tangible history & are held dear by most of the community.

Take the trees away & you have substantially changed a place. Not only have you removed things that are worth a great deal of money & with 13 Figs we are talking in excess of a million dollars, but their loss will have an impact on spending in the shops. Researchers have concluded 11% more money is spent in shopping areas where there are big healthy shady trees.  To their credit Port Macquarie-Hastings Council plans to replace the Figs with 11 advanced Brush Box trees.

My question is why don’t Councils or organizations take pre-emptive action on their big trees when the trees are in areas that could damage property or cause trip hazards?  Ultimately it is worth the financial outlay when one considers how much these trees are worth in a monetary sense. Then there are all the other factors to take into consideration, history, place, future, community cohesion (fights like these in small towns could escalate into severe divisions), trust in the Council/organisation & stating the obvious, climate change.

These roots have infiltrated a parking area. I found it interesting is to see that the roots didn't travel far from the tree despite its size. It has been like this for years & the tree is still healthy even though cars park on the roots, proving it is unnecessary to remove a tree when this happens. It might look unsightly, but the tree itself is gorgeous.

Root barriers can be put in place.  Sewerage & water pipes can be replaced with pipes that can’t be invaded by tree roots or re-routed & be done with the problem forever. In Canada, they use a system that allows pipes to be replaced without digging, disturbing or damaging tree roots. They use a water flushing vacuum system to remove the soil from around the roots, pipes or wires, then install the new pipes & put the soil back in.

You don’t even need to put in concrete foundations near a tree when you are building anymore.  Again in Canada, they insert giant steel screw piles into the ground that are just as stable as concrete foundations & require no digging.

There is also a high-density plastic grid system that I have seen used in Sydney.  Once laid over the ground the grid disperses the weight of vehicles over a larger area. The grid also prevents soil compaction, which can damage roots.  Best of all, the grid allows rainwater to permeate the soil, reducing the need for irrigation & improves storm-water management. Ground cover or other plants can be grown in the spaces within the grid.

The grid also prevents soil erosion. I can see these grids used to support riverbanks & to create cement-free car parks. They could also be used to channel water into the ground near a street tree rather than be wasted by pouring down drains.  There is no reason why a section of the gutter cannot be a grid.

There is also porous concrete used across City of Sydney & North Sydney Councils.  Porous concrete provides a seamless surface allowing people to walk across it, but still captures any rainwater that falls on it, watering the tree.

There are quite a number of beautiful Figs in Marrickville LGA & many of them are planted near buildings. Unfortunately many of these trees live in less than perfect conditions with cement & bitumen almost to the base of their trunk. Many have cars & trucks parked right next to them. As we have seen, it is only a matter of time before branches get gouged or broken off by trucks.

Canary Island Palms line Graham Avenue Marrickville. I hope these trees are heritage protected.

The only reason why money isn’t spent on protecting trees before problems start is that trees are not held in high importance or the Council is so strapped for money that understandably, urban forest issues get moved down the list of priorities.

Many Councils do hold their trees in high esteem & look after them. They use floating footpaths & permeable rubber surfaces or permeable ‘solid’ surfaces. They put garden beds around trees to prevent or limit the amount of vehicles that can park under them. They put ‘no parking’ signs for vehicles over a certain size & weight & they do other things like prune dead branches & normal die back. They probably feed them occasionally as well.

I would do all of the above & if property damage occurred with people saying get rid of the tree/s, I would think it is the community’s & Council’s best interest to fix the damage (within reason, once proof & access has been given to Council) & put things in place to ensure the problem won’t repeat itself.  Too many people & future generations miss out for cracks to walls & pipes, both which are easily fixed without costing as high as the value of losing a tree.

Trees are the only things Councils own that increase in value each year.

I have written about clay soils & how they affect buildings at –

You can read both stories at the following links –



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