Around the world, there are some outstanding examples of approaches to urban greening that Australian planners, policy-makers and developers can draw inspiration from. Singapore is probably one of the best-known, best practice examples of urban greening, with its five-decade long approach to evolving the urban area into a “city in a garden”.

The greening was initially driven by the desire to attract foreign investment and to ensure long-term water security through integrating water management into landscaping and urban planning. Singapore’s more recent policies have also emphasised benefits of population wellbeing, attracting tourists, increasing wildlife in the city and mitigating the heat impacts of climate change.

Madrid is another city looking to greening to improve water security, cool the city and improve liveability. Following the report Madrid + Nature by Arup, the city developed plans to expand and restore city parks, create 22 new urban gardens, turn vacant public land into community gardens and plant trees along the banks of the Manzanares river to create a linear park. There will also be funding for green roofs, vertical greening will be encouraged and paved squares will be retrofitted with plant beds that function as rain gardens. The city also plans to fund a new urban gardening school.

On a local level in Australia, the City of Fremantle adopted an urban greening plan in December 2015, which aims to ensure every citizen of the city is within 400 metres of open green space. The Green Plan 2020 also set a target of 20 per cent tree canopy cover for tree planting by 2020, with the council initiating an Urban Forest Strategy to manage and guide tree and vegetation population across public and private realms.

In addition to mitigating the urban heat island effect and improving biodiversity, the council has identified other benefits of greening on a street level, for example, using street trees in containers down the median of roads for traffic calming.

Sacha Coles of ASPECT
Sacha Coles of ASPECT

Sacha Coles, director of ASPECT Studios, said the role of the federal government in increasing urban greening is to ensure there is a good system that supports local and state governments with funding for social infrastructure, including ensuring access to urban green space and great parkland spaces for everyone to enjoy.

Coles says there have been some great ideas, such as the Green Grid for Sydney plan developed by the NSW Government Architect’s Office. This will find its way into wider policy, he said.

The Green Grid proposes connecting open green spaces that offer different landscape experiences, through providing green corridors for cycling and walking. Elements of the proposal have already been taken up by some councils, including City of Parramatta, and its implementation also forms part of the NSW Government’s Plan for Growing Sydney.

“A green grid can [also] direct all levels of government to retain the assets they have,” Coles says.

He says that for new green space projects, the use of endemic or native plants is good from a biodiversity point of view, and also for the reduction of maintenance. Endemic trees and landscape also contribute to the sense of place that defines a city.

Designing a sense of place through greening can also incorporate the use of swales for stormwater management, and other elements of water sensitive urban design, such as rain gardens.

Streets, which Coles says are in many cases “huge underutilised assets” in terms of open space, can be transformed through a combination of trees and understorey plants.

“There needs to be a shift in budgets both public and private to allocate funds,” Coles says.

Talk of urban forests and urban agriculture needs to be backed up by the allocation of funds for ongoing maintenance, with the understanding that maintaining urban green space is an investment.

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Planning policies, lack of developer priorities around green space and the need for funding for both creation of green space and its ongoing maintenance were all identified by 202020 Vision partners as among the key issues preventing the creation of more and better urban green space.

In some cases, green linkages come about through synchronicity. Coles says the transformation of Ultimo and Haymarket in Sydney is a case in point.

His practice worked on the One Central Park project for Sekisui House and Frasers Property, which used greenery effectively as part of the brand for the project. ASPECT also won the design competition to transform the UTS campus next door, which had no green space. The design for Alumni Green includes dense and fine grain garden areas, work pods, places to meet and a large green open space that can be activated for gatherings and events.

The third piece of the linkage is the work ASPECT did for the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority on The Goods Line, which transformed a rail line into a green corridor that links communities.

“The end result is a network of infill green spaces that were never there before,” Coles says.