Albury-WodongaNE VictoriaSouthern New South Wales

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Greening our suburbs

health, nature

By Jonathon Howard

I have begun to wonder if property developers have the future of our region at heart. The economic incentive to reduce property setbacks and encourage gutter-to-gutter medium density housing appears to compromise our understanding of a traditional streetscape.

Large, healthy street trees are one of the main differences between a suburb with strong house prices to those that are less desirable places to live. Quite simply, people equate prosperity and good lifestyles to green, leafy streets.

But it is not only economics that is driving our ‘crowded’ approach. We also need to shift our urban planning requirements, so we establish high quality streetscapes both now and in the future. The trees we plant now must create a variety of longer-term community values.

The possible benefits of trees are many. They can modify the ambient climate, their foliage can filter dust and other pollutants, they can look beautiful, and they can connect the natural to the urban environment.

I am not advocating that only local native species be selected. I am simply stating that appropriate street trees are more important than ever as there is a trend to reduce the available space for streetscape elements.

Trees such as poplars, plane trees and urbanite ashes are trees of yesteryear. They are too big and offer too many potential maintenance problems to be suitable to plant today. We need to think of tomorrow and ask important questions before planting.

Why ‘buffer’ an urban development with native trees that hide the development so that only ornamentals and other foreign species are planted within the site?  We can create developments so that they enhance the wider setting. We can create sympathetic interfaces that consider the wider location.

By 2050, the climate in Albury-Wodonga is predicted to be more like that of Forbes in NSW, with fewer frosts and more heat waves, days of 40°C twice as common and heat waves lasting longer. The trees we select now are expected to live to 2070 so we need to carefully consider what trees we plant now to create green, leafy communities in the future.

This is your opportunity, as a ‘citizen’ in a democracy to think about the future you want: don’t let short-term economic incentives govern your choices, consider the longer-term way you want to live.

Native tree planting in Canberra, the “Bush Capital”. How a city has successfully incorporated indigenous tree planting in all its suburbs. Photo by Kirsten Coates.