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Experts comment on a strategy to green our cities before it's too late

Experts comment on a strategy to green our cities before it's too late
Experts comment on a strategy to green our cities before it's too late

The world is heating up more quickly than we're aware of – it's not until you look at the facts, that it is evident we need to act fast. Australia has experienced its warmest and driest year to date (reaching 49.9C in December), while the world has recently recorded the second warmest year on record. Climate change is happening, and it's forcing us to save the liveability of our cities.

Greener Spaces Better Places is an initiative which gives a voice to advocates looking to make changes for the better in our urban environments. The goal is to increase and diversify the tree canopy cover to alleviate the impacts of the heat island effect and other climate change-related impacts, from both a council and house-hold level.

Daniel Bennett, SA President Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) says dark surfaces in our cities contribute,

“The direct sun hitting black bitumen (the most common form of surface treatment on our streets) is like a heat sink - absorbing up all that heat which is retained and effectively heats up the surrounding environment, making on-the-ground temperatures as high as 55 degrees in the sun - on a hot day you could fry an egg!

Trees reduce direct heat absorption and are helpful to be under on a hot day and when this is multiplied across a city, has enormous benefits in reducing a city’s ambient temperature. Trees are effectively nature’s free air conditioners!” 

By reducing the urban heat island effect, studies show that this could be an integral way to increase biodiversity in our cities – and not only will it create a more harmonious place for wildlife, but humans are likely to experience more positive physical, social and mental wellbeing too.

Dr Tony Matthews also commented on the issues, explaining that reducing surface temperatures play a significant role in slowing the effects of climate change and a government-funded incentivisation scheme would be a great way to get the city's residents on board.

“We know a tried and tested strategy is the introduction of more trees and green roofs in urban spaces, reducing surface temperatures by up to 40%.

At the street level, a huge amount of urban land is privately owned, so it would be great to see residents doing their part to green their properties, and supported by the government, via an incentivisation scheme, to do so in ensuring that our urban landscapes, and in turn our urban communities, remain resilient to climate change, it’s crucial that our councils play a key role.”

Dr Tony Matthews, Griffith University Urban Environmental Planner and Greener Spaces Better Places advocate

Another Greener Spacer Better Places advocate Leigh Staas explains that urban greening is the cheapest and most effective way to protect our cities from heat.

"Research tells us that if we can retain enough trees and green space in our backyards and neighbourhoods we can reduce temperatures by up to 12 degrees."

For tree-planting to be effective, the right species of plants need to be identified first as there are many trees that will not be able to withstand the 'new normal' temperatures.

"Further, increasing the diversity of tree species in our cities is crucial in ensuring that our urban landscapes remain resilient to the many challenges of climate change, particularly drought, pest and disease. Some councils are well ahead of the game in this space, but others need to pick up the pace and plan for the future.”

Leigh Staas, Project Manager for The 'Which Plant Where' project

Experts comment on a strategy to green our cities before it's too late

Hort Innovation chief executive, Matt Brand said the program’s continued priority is to construct more and better urban green spaces across the country.

“The program will work to ensure that as cities grow, so do green spaces; and that they are grown with quality, best practice and address key challenges cities face. To promote health and wellbeing in individuals, build resilient communities and support a sustainable society, the program will work holistically to champion the benefits of green space in relation to urban liveability - not just for the fortunate few, but for everyone.”

Professor Tonia Gray reiterates this sentiment, agreeing that there needs to be a greater emphasis on green infrastructure and the inclusion of nature from a city planning level.

“We are hardwired to be connected to nature - this isn’t anything new, it’s just newly important, in our increasingly urban lives. Greener Spaces Better Places, alongside the network, has an integral role to play in upscaling the importance of nature and reinforcing the message that green is good. We know when done right, urban greening leads to vibrant, creative, beautiful and desirable ­places to live.”

Tonia Gray, Professor at Western Sydney University and Greener Spaces Better Places advocate

Since launching in 2013, the program has created Australia’s first benchmark measurement of urban green space by measuring green space in all 139 of Australian urban and peri-urban LGAs (in partnership with UTS), trained over 600 people from 140 councils in implementing an urban forestry growth strategy, and brought together 7000+ individuals and organisations to form the country’s largest network of green space advocates.

Olivia Round

Olivia Round

Olivia Round is the Features Editor of urban.com.au. Olivia specialises in news reporting, in-depth editorial content and video + podcast interviews with industry experts.

Tags: 
Greener Spaces Better Places Landscape Architecture

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