Sustainable cities need trees, not freeways

Trees provide services to cities that far outstrip their cost.

Trees provide services to cities that far outstrip their cost. Tim Parkinson/flickr

As we worry about where we will put Australia’s ever-increasing population, urban trees are becoming collateral damage.

So how much are our trees worth to us? According to Melbourne City Council, they can cost up to $62,000 each.

But putting a price in dollars on a city’s trees does not represent their real value.

Without urban woodlands, our future cities will be places where no human would want to live.

People need trees; trees need people

Australia’s cities are well-treed; they are woodlands rather than forests. These urban woodlands have formed as a result of the reciprocal interactions between people and trees.

Trees beguile people into planting them and caring for them, or sneak into places when no-one is looking. Some of them even manage to survive a transition from natural forest to suburbia.

But our relationship with trees is not simple.

People ruthlessly expunge some culturally malodorous trees, while sacrificing themselves for others. This interagency between trees and people means that, if we want more or fewer trees in any parts of our urban areas we need to know how people affect trees and how trees affect people.

We can conclude that trees must affect the urbanites of Australia in a highly positive way, because their density in cities and suburbs has massively increased in the last half century.

In 1961 there were 26 trees per hectare of eastern Australian suburban garden. By 2006, that was up to 85. Street trees have increased from one outside every two gardens to four outside every five gardens. Clearly, we want trees.

When asked, most city people will say that they plant trees because they are beautiful, support wildlife and are good for “the environment”. Hardly anyone mentions the well-established fact that trees provide services that save cities much more than the trees cost.

Urban trees moderate our cities’ environment, and we choose the ones that help us most. Deciduous trees are most favoured in the cities with cold winters and hot summers, providing shade in summer and sun in winter. Evergreen spreading trees with dense crowns are most favoured in the tropics and subtropics, where shade is a good idea in all seasons.

Different tastes are killing our trees

The beauty of trees is almost unanimously celebrated by Australian city dwellers. However, opinion varies considerably on the beauty of any particular tree and on whether we should have trees in gardens.

And of course, our personal attitude to trees is affected by our willingness to garden, capability to garden, fondness for native plants, fondness for home production of food and love of flowers. The trees also have a say, individual species having preferences for particular environments, not always satisfied where they are planted.

Different types of gardens attract different birds, so it may be a good thing for bird diversity that taste in gardens differs so widely within streets. There are many native species that partly depend on the urban woodland for their survival.

In Australia, neighbours rarely have similar gardens or the same trees. A change of owner often leads to the felling of one type of tree, to be replaced by another. Most trees that are felled in cities are killed by tree lovers in their gardens for reasons of taste.

It’s wasteful to be constantly felling and replanting trees. Big old trees have been very lucky to survive changes of ownership or to have one owner in place for a very long time. These trees are the ones that give us our sense of place and are some of the most important habitats for other urban sentient beings, like birds and possums.

Perhaps we should be protecting our old trees, diverting water from wasteful industrial uses, encouraging domestic production of vegetables, fruit and nuts and concentrating on developing public transport systems suitable for low density urban areas.

It would make more sense than building freeways that will be useless when, in the near future, oil runs out. Let’s not destroy the beauty, amenity and productivity of our inner and middle suburbs in the process of urban consolidation.

The Conversation

Jamie Kirkpatrick is Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at University of Tasmania.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Republished by Redlands2030 – 8 July 2015

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14 thoughts on “Sustainable cities need trees, not freeways

  1. Back to governance, folks. If our council used the 2030 Community Plan the way it was intended, all projects would be passed against all of the desired plan outcomes, with adjustments being made to the project to better align it with the direction we agreed.
    Unfortunately, that would interfere with the agenda that is clearly being pursued in support of developers. The 2030 Community plan is window dressing only, and there is no will to update it or commit to its outcomes.
    That is the positive way forward, should the council wish to embrace it.

      • No Worries. In fairness it does seem to be a problem with development Australia-wide. If you think there is a problem here, you really should visit the stripped, soulless outer suburbs of Melbourne. We’re lucky here in the Redlands to have such a beautiful landscape and in comparison, lots of trees, but we also need to keep it that way.

        On a purely economic angle, surely developers have to realise that new developments are far more viable and, as an ongoing measure, a much better testimonial when the native environment is retained. Some economic as well as environmental rationalism required…

      • Damien back around 1998 Council and the State Governsment acquired a block of land identified as a major koala corridor on both sides of this bushland the land was zoned for residential. I worked alongside the developer and council officers to get a good environmental outcome, the developer was not happy he Claimed we held up his development with the conditions that were included. After all the argy Bargy we endured , the developer launched his development and on that day he told me he was not happy with what we expected but he complied and found that even though there were extra costs he told me he sold the properties faster and it had been their most successful housing estate. He sold the homes for a higher price because of the tree retention and landscaping. Many of the homes were on 400smq lots and sadly since that time that same developer has built hundreds of homes in Redlands and just about everyone has had all the trees cleared. Such a short memory.
        There is no political will in Redlands these days, shame there is no understanding that our environment and bushland is a major drawcard to our City it WAS a big part of our image and identity. Once we lose that character we become just an extension of Brisbane

      • Indeed. Those are the kinds of stories that need promoting. At the end of the day, I’m a firm believer that nothing happens in Australia without a financial imperitive.

        Regards the Redlands; I’ve only lived locally since 2004 and been heavily involved in business and to a lesser degree political circles. One issue I have observed historically is a culture of ‘oppose all the things’ which, in my opinion, takes a lot of people out of constructive debate. If we could hear more stories such as your developer case above, coupled with some balanced, rational debate I’m sure we could take the Redlands forward more positively.

        Ultimately, like it or not, the Redlands population is only going to increase so best to be part of the debate over how that is going to be serviced and take form rather than check-out of the discussion with a full and unrealistic NIMBY attitude.

        *Not* directing this at anyone specifically here by the way – just calling it how I see it from my limited experience living here.

  2. Quoting from today’s SBS News: ‘Trees help people feel healthier’.
    Planting more trees in urban streets can help people feel younger and healthier, new research says.
    People who live in streets with lots of trees feel younger, better and report fewer cardio-metabolic conditions, such as hypertension and obesity, than residents in roads with fewer trees, a paper published in Scientific Reports says.
    Using data from 31,109 residents of the Canadian city of Toronto who filled out an online questionnaire, the study found people who live in areas with a higher street tree density had a better perception of their health.
    The study says the impact of street tree density seems to compare with other variables that correlate with better health – such as higher income.
    A more affluent family living in a richer neighbourhood would be expected to perceive themselves as healthier than a family with less, it says.
    ‘Interestingly, however, that prediction could turn out to be wrong if the less affluent family lives in a neighbourhood that has on average 10 more trees beside the streets in every block,’ says the paper, titled ‘Neighbourhood greenspace and health in a large urban centre’.

  3. Architecturally, Cleveland is ho hum. Most of the post-war buildings are ugly. Arrival registers little awareness.
    Abundant street tree planting would mask the banality of the built form and mitigate the hot climate.
    Fortunately, the inner CBD enjoys an urban identity created almost entirely by landscaping. Trees define the centre and tie together the main streets. They give a sense of place and provide shade for shoppers and parked cars.
    The rest of Cleveland also needs a landscaping strategy.
    In March 2014 during the urban master workshop to investigate alternatives to the atrocious Toondah Harbour overdevelopment, the senior urban designers, architects and landscape architects sketched networks of tree-lined boulevards, avenues and fingers of greenery – which identify the thus-far hidden links to sites and places of interest across the city – providing important way-finding, aesthetic, shade, biodiversity and wellbeing amenity that Cleveland broadly lacks.
    Cleveland was, and still is in some parts, blessed with magnificent vegetation – including the remaining mangroves. Pockets of mature fig trees and groves of gums give glimpses into what Cleveland could gain from valuing and showcasing its natural endowments rather than ignoring them or – worse – mowing them down.
    If Cleveland continues to deny everything that makes it special, then it continues the trajectory it is on to being just another overblown suburban conglomeration without distinction in South-East Queensland. The city should pull up its socks. Its natural strength lies in defining itself, through its public spaces, as a lush subtropical city.

  4. Smart planning might start with a commitment to ensuring outcomes deliver a net public benefit. A treed urban environment has been the norm in SEQ throughout most of its urbanisation. It is only the last 20years or so we have seen mantras like “jobs, jobs, jobs” or “putting Redland on the map” or “giving certainty” (always for business or development”) dominate the political/planning “speak”. The values that people put on their local environment are relegated as nice to dos …but not real planning.

    People already know the importance of trees, greenspace, sense of place, livability, lifestyle, quality of life etc but we stiill get the mantra from our political and civic leaders.

    As a result we get smaller lots, higher density, foreshore development, congestion, sprawl., less greenspace, fewer trees and (in Redlands) fewer koalas…..

    Of course there is a need for a balance but the Redlands balance seems to deliver greenspace and the like in dollops of half of a half of a half of a half. A trend now so persuasive that the it is becomming the norm….it is just like gradually boiling frogs!!!!

    Sadly, it seems likely that will continue in the upcoming city plan…. Likely to be rushed through a token consultation phase and confirm more code assessment, more performance planning outcomes, more community angst, more and more social capital wasted in trying to defend what we have.

  5. Clear tree felling appears to be the norm in Redlands approved by local government operatives with no interest in saving irreplaceable native trees that can block unwanted sound attractively. Plantings of trees contribute aesthetic interest to the yard, roadsides, helps reduce amount of CO2 emissions in the air and can add up to 15 percent in monetary value to your home. According to National Bureau of Standards, multiple rows of trees provide from 6 to 7 decibels of noise reduction. For best results, multiple rows of fast-growing evergreens and desiduous trees should be planted.
    When the development boom began in 1987, Capalaba, Finucane/Old Cleveland Rd East tall trees often with koalas still in them were destroyed in the rush to build wall to wall units…heartbreaking seeing squashed koalas on roads with flat bed trucks collecting them continually along with gaily coloured koala ambulance. Observing increased traffic flow, arranged through Council for barrier planting between Elmhurst & Tremont Sts adjacent to 4-way intersection..but too many inappropriate trees were planted for an effective pollution barrier. Due to recent complaints from resident at 42 Finucane Rd arranged for ‘lilly pilly’ planting adjacent to open space by bus shelter that I maintain. With increasing polluting traffic, there needs to be a higher density of evergreens to protect health of those living beside roads with high volumes of traffic.

  6. When Melbourne began gathering data for its community engaging Urban Forests program it originally identified some gaps in the sustainability city standard. Some were that trees had only been identified as only risks during severe weather events, no value had been given to their ability to “cool” the local environment – adaptation, and no value was given to soil sequestration. Currently only very small fines/permit costs exist for removing urban trees and there are no economic incentives for tree retention. Melbourne University proceeded with some other research partners undertook a grant and looked elsewhere at urban forests. Chicago Urban Forest program began in1991 and has been valued by CHICAGO City Council as removing 6154 tons of air pollution valued at US$9.2million, total Co2 sequestration = 155,000 tons per year Cost benefit ratio 2.83. Increasing tree cover by 10% (3 trees per building could reduce cooling/heating by 5-10%) BRISBANE City Council – Values houses in a leafy street at 30% higher than a non-leafy street in the same suburb. CANBERRA Urban Forest Renewal Program – Mature Trees – Saved $3.9 million in energy costs, provided $7.9 million in air pollution mitigation, and $3.5 in storm water mitigation and reduced wind speed by up to 50%. Mature trees are economically important not just for wildlife!

  7. Agreed. Some stronger controls need to be introduced to prevent developers stripping blocks of trees prior to developing estates. On a purely economic angle, surely the future value and sustainability of such developments can only be enhanced by leaving as many trees in place as possible?

    We previously resided at the bottom of South St Thornlands and it was hugely depressing. Although there is a lovely walk alongside the shoreline, most blocks are entirely devoid of trees and houses close to fence lines. We moved to an older established part of Capalaba where the trees were left in place and as I understand it, more planted as a state government initiative. You couldn’t pay us to move back to the ‘prestige’ estate in Thornlands…

  8. What a great article, a must read for land developers. Back when Redlands had some value for our trees some developers would make an effort to retain trees on road reserves and along back properties to give people a start to their landscaping and also, the question why remove the trees on road reserves and footpaths when developers are required to plant 2 trees per frontage., These trees were identified as the corridor for wildlife and as seen in suburbs like Chelmer, Ascot and other leafy suburbs the trees are the greatest attraction and add value to the property.
    We see now in Mt Cotton, Thornlands, Capalaba where developers are allowed to just clear fell everything, Council officers seen to sign off development without a care or interest in protecting the existing trees, there is no politicial WILL to work with the developers to encourage a good urban product.
    There are examples in Capalaba and Mt Cotton where time and effort showed that trees can be retained and people live in harmony with them.
    In Sydney trees in urban areas are protected and large fines incurred if trees are removed, sadly Redlands has dropped the ball. Rainforest trees at the end of Hardwood Drive in Mt Cotton all gone and nothing but a dust bowl and large retaining walls blot the landscape. The top soil taken away and flogged off so the new residents have to import their soil.
    “Dont destroy what we can we came to enjoy” is still a good message shame Redland Council and some councillors dont see the value.in trees