– 24 July 2009 – The idea of greening the city streets with trees, plants and edible fruit has struck a powerful chord judging by the strong response to Wednesday  night’s seminar (22 July) on the topic hosted by architects Allen Jack + Cottier in Sydney’s inner city Chippendale.

According to A J + C’s communications coordinator, Ashley Penny, “Reinventing our City Street” was oversubscribed, with around 40 people turned away through lack of space, and many of the 130 attendees who did make it through the doors forced to stand.

There was a mix of architects, engineers and consultants in the audience, but a large proportion seemed to be local council officers, judging by the many energised questions and comments they offered after the presentations.

The extremes in views was highly entertaining,  from the sensible and controlled explanation such as how to build “five star” roads from  Arjan Rensen of the Australian Roads Research Board, to demonstrations – with photos –  from Michael Mobbs, sustainability consultant (and The Fifth Estate columnist) on how to dig up roads and poke holes in their drainage pipes so that plants and trees could siphon off some  storm water before it was whooshed off to the harbour.

Mobbs even promised such an enterprise would come with the added pleasure of harvesting a crop  and creating neighbourly engagement.

A sustainable climate freindly thing to do. But even more ambitious was planting big trees. Deena Ridenour of AJ + C and Libby Gallagher of Aspect Studios, explained how many hundreds of tonnes of carbon could be sequestered by planting various species of trees, taking two Marrickville Streets as models.

Ahhh, but it was important not to forget what’s below the surface, reminded Simon Leake of Sydney Environmental & Soil Laboratory. A problem in many parts of Sydney was a sub-stratrum with either rock hard clay or plain rock – not an ideal support system for the kinds of extensive root systems needed by large trees.

Trees seemed to be an item of much passion. What about the root systems when they did take hold? There was a danger you create shade and greenhouse savings for some lucky householders while only passing on the cost of broken sewerage pipes to the public purse, warned one council officer. What about the origin of the trees – were they indigenous as well as native? And what about Europe? A look at Germany and other places showed that compared to Europeans Australia was still on baby steps. Still, as the organisers promised, it was a conversation –  clearly one with many sequels.

Photo: The grass wheel was produced by Asher deGroot, David Gallaugher, Kevin James and Jacob Jebailey of Dalhousie University. Photographer is J Jebailey

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