Image: JamesN orton

Winning projects at this year’s National Landscape Architecture Awards showcased the many benefits of greening in urban settings, including activating public spaces, enhancing town identities and even reducing household energy bills. 

The Cool Streets Pilot Project by Libby Gallagher Studio, which won the Award for Excellence for Community Contribution, is a prime example.

The project involved working with residents of a street in Blacktown to change the approach to planting street trees, making a clear link between different planting regimes and the energy bill cuts households could see due to mitigating urban heat –  up to $400 a year.

Dr Gallagher told The Fifth Estate the main goal was to test community acceptance of a new approach that adjusts the species of tree and the layout to better mitigate urban heat. This can then reduce energy bills for the households through better shade, she said. 

Libby Gallagher

The project drew on five years of research she undertook for her PhD that looked into finding methods for cooling streets and metrics to quantify them. 

She examined whether it was a question of materials used for streets and the role of trees. Trees came out as the best solution for cooling, as they have the added benefit of sequestering carbon as well as providing shade. 

“Trees modify the localised climate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cooling the air and reducing reliance on air conditioning.” 

A summation of the research findings formed part of the information given to residents during the pilot as collectively they decided on their preferred outcome. 

The options included the “business as usual” street planting style in the area, comprising species such as small water gums; a second option of larger deciduous trees; and a third option of a denser mix of gums and deciduous trees. 

Option three, her research showed, could lead to a substantial reduction in bills for cooling for households – up to $400 a year once the trees were mature from their directly shade for homes. 

It also resulted in good solar access in winter when the deciduous trees lost their leaves, Dr Gallagher said. 

In the end around 30 trees, a mix of brushbox and claret ash, were put in and residents given watering cans so they could more easily take responsibility for helping the young trees establish. 

Dr Gallagher said residents found it surprising that trees could impact their own home operating costs and standard of living. 

“I tabled the ideas about the data on energy bill savings, and that came as a bit of a shock to them,” she said. 

Since the pilot she has seen a lot of interest in the model. 

“I am speaking to councils across the country,” she said. 

There is a particularly high level of enthusiasm from councils in Victoria and South Australia that experience severe heat. 

“I have also had a lot of community members contact us, people who are willing to be Cool Street champions.” 

She said having “effective trees” was a priority. 

“It’s about the scale of trees – and designing the road verge to accommodate them.” 

Other benefits of street trees include value uplift for adjacent properties, increased liveability of streets and improved health outcomes. 

“A lot of studies show that increasing the trees in a neighbourhood significantly improves health outcomes,” Dr Gallagher said. 

That includes lower rates of diabetes, improved cardiovascular health and improved mental health. 

“Just being able to see trees out the window can lower stress levels.” 

There is also a link between tree planting and improved air quality, she said. This is not just because trees can absorb some airborne contaminants, but also because with increased urban heat comes increased smog levels. 

Dr Gallagher said this is because increased temperatures lead to increased activation of certain pollutants. 

Greening and improved liveability

Another winning project that showed how greening can be integrated with the public realm to improve liveability was the K2K – Kensington to Kingsford – Precinct in eastern Sydney. 

The project, by Hill Thalis and JMD Design, won the Award for Excellence in the Urban Design category. 

The masterplan includes a linear park and aims to reinvigorate Anzac Parade. 

“Developed through a close collaboration of both landscape architect and architect, working together to deliver a fully integrated, high quality urban design, this project reinvigorates the Anzac Parade boulevard enabling it to regain its grandeur with new buildings and landscape of urban scale,” the judges said.  

“The resulting urban design framework not only articulates an inspired vision for the future, it sets out principles and strategies to achieve what could become some of Sydney’s most desirable places enabling it to regain its grandeur and articulating an inspired vision for the future.” 

Another award-winning example of the power of landscape and green infrastructure approaches was the Maitland Levee by McGregor Coxall, which took home the Civic Spaces 2017 Landscape Architecture Award. 

The judges noted that since the project’s completion, the adjacent retail tenancies had gone from a 50 per cent vacancy rate to being fully leased. 

“The Maitland Levee project, in a regional town in New South Wales, demonstrates how a carefully considered and high quality public realm project can transform the economic, social and environmental fortunes of a place.” 

Another project that aspires to also achieve economic and social outcomes for communities won the Award for Excellence for Landscape Planning. 

Vibrant Towns of the Scenic Rim by John Mongard Landscape Architects is a masterplan for reviving the civic hearts of three major towns within Queensland’s Scenic Rim Council area. 

Commissioned by the council, the plan aims to stimulate the economies of the towns through enhancing the civic centres. 

The judges said the masterplan “highlights the pathways to achieve long term sustainable, people-oriented and economically viable?places within one of Australia’s most picturesque regions. 

“Taking an approach that considers the value of these towns on both their individual merit, and?importantly the collective whole, the plan unfolds as an experiential journey that explores the?character and life of each town.  

“With community engagement playing a central role in the project,?the plan reveals the history, culture and scenic amenity that make these places real.” 

Scenic Rim mayor Greg Christensen said the award was a great accolade, and that council has allocated more than $1.5 million in its 2017-18 budget to continue delivering town centre projects as part of the plan and a wider Vibrant and Active Towns and Villages initiative. 

“I’m excited about the delivery of the next stage of transformative projects in this process: a new town square in Boonah and the Village Greens at Tamborine Mountain, where construction will commence on the revitalisation of the Main Street precinct in coming weeks,” he said. 

“Our long-term commitment to the Vibrant and Active Towns and Villages initiative will ultimately provide both an economic and social dividend to our communities. It will help to create liveable communities and, in doing so, provide a magnet for commercial and retail activity.” 

Jury chair Linda Corkery said the body of work being produced by the profession was “truly impressive and the diversity of project types and scales is expanding all the time. 

“It is exciting to see landscape architects around Australia leading the planning and design of projects that are creating more vibrant, healthy and inclusive communities; renewing ecological systems; and fostering resilient social, natural and built environments.”

  • See the full list of winners here

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