Rewilding. City beautification. Reforestation. Reclaiming urbanised land for parks and green spaces has been trending among local governments for more than a decade. And now, as climate concerns grow and as people look to spend more time outdoors for health reasons, the focus on parks and outdoor spaces in cities has only increased.
But what about the green spaces that people use most often? The footpaths and neighborhood streets that people traverse daily as they come and go from their homes are perhaps the most visited of a city’s green spaces, but they often get overlooked in beautification and urban renewal projects.
It’s an approach other cities and counties can mimic, using environmental elements to improve their communities. It’s also an example of how cities can drive change and build resiliency by starting right at residents’ doorsteps.
The need for trees
Darebin has seen its population and economy grow in recent years — and it’s not expected to slow down. The city projects a 35.74% population growth by 2040, bringing more urban development along with it. If this growth is not managed strategically, the city could see major problems — environmental included.
The Darebin Council recognised this risk, and acted early. In 1995 the city introduced its “Green Streets Strategy,” which led to more than 20,000 new trees planted around Darebin streets. About 16 years after this initiative took off, the city revisited its approach, modernizing the strategy based on current needs and challenges, such as climate change and urban food production. The result was Darebin’s GreenStreets Streetscape Strategy, a program slated to run from 2012 to 2020.
increase the overall number of trees in Darebin’s streetscape
increase the overall percentage tree canopy cover
improve the overall community satisfaction with Council’s implementation and management of streetscapes
increase the quality of streetscapes through considered, creative design outcomes
increase the amount of Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD), passive irrigation and permeable surface applications throughout the municipality
implement designed streetscape outcomes benefiting the larger community
provide safe, accessible and uncluttered streetscapes
“Trees are an investment in the future vitality and value of our streets and community. Once established, the new trees will provide additional canopy cover for our footpaths and roads, helping to keep them cooler in summer. The future treelined streetscapes will also provide habitat to local fauna, helping reduce the impact urbanisation has had on our ecosystem, while revitalising our neighbourhoods with native foliage.”
Trees drive up property values. They have immense environmental benefits. They’re even said to slow down traffic. The more trees in Darebin, the better.
How to plant — and protect — 6,000 trees
Between July 2020 and October 2021, the city expects to plant 6,000 trees. Types of species vary based on a number of factors, says the Darebin City Council:
“When selecting suitable street trees, our focus is to plant ‘the right tree for the right location.’ This involves considering multiple factors such as available growing space, tree size, pedestrian access, parking, proximity to powerlines, underground services, visibility and more.”
Once the trees are planted, the council will maintain the plantings — including watering them, weeding, managing mulch, and other tree care — for two years. The city will also replace any trees that die or are vandalised.
Engaging the community
Unlike some other public works projects or city beautification efforts, Darebin’s Rapid Canopy project has a direct — and immediate — impact on residents’ lives and homes. Many of the trees are planted in the nature strip, located between a street kerb and the property boundary or footpath. While it’s technically city land, the impact is felt on the private homes and lawns that abut these nature strips. In order to prepare residents for the project the city prioritised citizen engagement. Residents who would be receiving a tree were notified by post. The Darebin Council also published a FAQ on the city’s website, set up a dedicated email address to field questions or appeals, and posts regular updates on social media to keep the public informed. Local residents, in turn, have been vocal with project feedback. Residents have shared concerns over everything from allergies to tree species that produce a lot of leaves and mess to trees that bear stinky fruit.
Tree canopy projects take root around the world
Regardless of the tools used, adding more trees to a community rarely is a bad thing. And as Darebin’s Rapid Canopy Project shows, cities don’t need to convert huge swaths of urban land into continuous forest in order to drive big canopy gains. A small, localised footprint plus citizen participation can drive a lot of progress in a short amount of time.