Out in the Open: Comparing Open Space Strategies

Out in the Open: Comparing Open Space Strategies
Aerial view of Alexandra Gardens and Birrarung Marr and surrounding open space. Image credit: [City of Melbourne]

We need our space, and if a time period has proven this more than ever it is now. This period of change has proved that open space is critical to the functioning of our society, even when everything else is shut down. 

In Melbourne, Councils are taking differing approaches to open space strategies, but are all prioritising it and looking towards growth and improvement of available open space for the public. 

Associated with open space in communities is the obvious physical benefits of exercise, both individual and group.  However, there are also social benefits by providing a space for meetings, picnics, gatherings with families and friends and the proven mental health benefits of leisure, mental development and connection with nature, as well as the life-giving effects of fresh air and sunshine.

Green open space also mitigates the impact of the Urban Heat Island effect, and as we are faced with steadily rising temperatures, green space will be able to provide some relief to the absorption of heat in urban areas. 

Urban Heat Island is the effect where the abundance of paved surfaces in urban area absorbs heat throughout the day and holds the heat much longer than green permeable surfaces. At night when the temperature drops, the heat is trapped in the city from the buildings and surfaces that are still radiating heat. As a result, metropolitan areas have temperatures 1-3 degrees Celsius hotter than rural areas.

Out in the Open: Comparing Open Space Strategies
Urban Heat Island and Open Space Diagram. image credit: [City of Melbourne]


As the image above indicates, more open space aids in providing cooler spaces throughout the day and also helps cool the city at night through evapotranspiration. 

The provision and management of open space is a critical part of local government area strategies. In response to this time, I’ve looked back on three inner-city Melbourne local government areas and their Open Space Strategies to see what has been prioritised. 

City of Melbourne

The City of Melbourne is blessed with several large parks and open spaces, some of which attract tourist and locals in large numbers. As part of the Open Space Strategy – Planning for Future Growth, there is focus on improving existing parks and creates links of open space as part of a greater open space network throughout the local government area. 

New open spaces both major and smaller are planned in areas that are outside the 300m-500m walkable open space network (10-minute walk). Identified gaps are prevalent in the West, which are areas that will be experiencing planned urban renewal. These areas include Flemington, Kensington, North Melbourne and Docklands which have been targeted for major open spaces and improved corridors and links. 

Urban Renewal Areas provide opportunities to increase the amount of open space in the vicinity in tandem with urban renewal development example include Fisherman’s Bend and Arden and Macaulay. 

There are also smaller open spaces proposed all around the precinct varying from 0.3 hectares to 1 hectare, providing more open spaces of smaller sizes dotted around the precinct to ensure all residents can walk to an open space regardless of size. 

The strategy has already surged ahead with commencement two open space projects, the Southbank Boulevard and Dodds Street open space corridor and the University Square transformation.

Out in the Open: Comparing Open Space Strategies
Carlton Gardens in the City of Melbourne. image credit: [City of Melbourne]

Carlton, East Melbourne and Parkville do not have any existing walkable distance gaps and these areas represent a purposeful goal to strive towards for the whole of the City of Melbourne. 

City of Moreland

The City of Moreland has 839ha of open space in the local government area. The main goals of the Open Space Strategy 2012-2022 include:

  • Providing parks close to home 
  • Having a mix of open space types and experiences 
  • Making places for nature 
  • A greener more liveable Moreland 
  • Making the most of open space through effective management 
  • Enhancing participation and use of open space 
  • Development of network of shared trails. 

Similar to the City of Melbourne, one of the main initiatives is striving to have parks and open spaces within 500m walkable distance and 300m in the densest residential areas. Moreland City Council has dubbed this the ‘A Park Close to Home’  plan and is actively purchasing land in areas that do not have open space within a walkable catchment area. Two new parks have already been unveiled.

Out in the Open: Comparing Open Space Strategies
Artist illustration of Garrong Park on Tinning Street, Brunswick. image credit: [Craig Perry]


New parks on Tinning Street and Breese Street are in industrial locations, close to the train line, and are in transitional residential areas. Design, naming, and use of the parks has involved the community with resident consultation and important illustration correspondence from Brunswick North Primary. The Tinning street park is to be named Garrong in the Woi Wurrung Language meaning ‘Wattle,’ and the Breese street park is to be named Bulleke-bek, similarly in the local language, meaning Brunswick. 

A strong feature of the strategy is the acknowledgment of the different demographics across Moreland and providing open space that is appropriate to everyone. There are proposed improvements and additions to the open space network to suit both young and old users. Spaces that will allow everyone to benefit from contact with nature while providing an opportunity for social and family use, recreation, sport and more. 

If more people feel connected or included by provided open space it can result in residents utilising them more and being respectful and proud of those spaces. 

City of Darebin 

The City of Darebin Open Space Strategy Breathing Space focuses on protecting, enhancing and increasing open space in the precinct. The current access to green space is 19.6sqm per capita, which is below the goal for 30sqm per capita. 

The two main goals are quantity and quality. There is a focus on increasing the quantity of open space and the local government area is working towards the 500m walkable distance from homes. This requires the acquisition and transformation of land into open space, focusing on making connections to transport and existing space, and providing open space in high density or projected growth areas. This is similar between all three local government areas. 

The second focus is on the quality of open space, concerning maintenance, design, services and biodiversity. There is much thought put into ways of providing habitats and supporting local flora and fauna. There is an emphasis on rewilding Darebin by making indigenous bushland the default choice for planting in existing and proposed open spaces.  

The rewilding of Darebin has kicked off with a redeployment of 35 staff members impacted by Covid-19 to help plant 30,000 trees, plants and grasses. The rewilding aims to increase tree canopy and local biodiversity.

Out in the Open: Comparing Open Space Strategies
Redeployed Darebin employees planting trees, plants and grasses to rewild the area. image credit: [Darebin City Council]

Darebin’s focus on indigenous species and the increase of canopy cover is a strong strategy. This will hopefully add to the respect of species and an increase in appreciation and benefits of open space, including physical, mental, social and urban heat. 

With densification and a growing population, Melbourne’s opportunities to grow open space are shrinking. It is paramount that local government areas focus on preserving and improving public open space, and plan to increase where possible, capturing vital land for new parks and spaces before they are gobbled up by new development. 

As this time cooped up at home is showing, access to open space is critical and it can and will be utilised for a whole range of activities by the public, generating collective positive mood shifts when everything else has been impacted. 

There are opportunities to increase walkable access to open space through strategic residential development and the linking of large open space with pocket parks and greenery to create green corridors through urban areas.  

Open space is important and the private open space requirements for new dwellings is only minimal. For single and multi-dwelling it is been 40-80sqm and for apartments, you’ll only get between 10-25sqm to call your own.  As a result, more and more people need to leave the house to stretch their legs and come in contact with some nature in an easy, quick and enjoyable way, and Council’s are working hard to make sure everyone has a public park or space near enough to reap the benefits.

Julia Frecker

Julia Frecker

Julia Frecker is a guest content contributor at Urban.com.au. She is working in the planning sector and enjoys writing about planning, sustainability and environment as a way of combining her passion for the industry and a love of writing. She has a particular interest in urban greenery and food systems and the role it plays in cities around the world.


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