The crowd was abuzz at the Urban Greening event / The Fifth Estate / Photography: Túlio Carneiro

URBAN GREENING: The Fifth Estate’s Urban Greening event was an “unbeleafable” success, proving “green is the new black” with just more than 150 delegates at one point showing up to hear from the experts and thought leaders in sustainability, horticulture and the built environment. 

The event on 25 July was a celebration of the elevation of nature to its rightful priority in our built environment, and the forces leading this disruption of the market.

With event partners the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), the Living Future Institute of Australia, and the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, lead sponsor Tensile, and supporting sponsors Mulpha and WaterUps, the summit, at the Aerial Function Centre at UTS, was widely judged a great success. 

Want to dive deeper into the world of Urban Greening? Don’t worry – we will bring you a long form edited transcript of the event plus additional feature articles in our ebook around this topic. 

Can’t wait? Here are some key takeaways from the day. 

1. Green is the new black

Like Superman casting off the corporate blazer and revealing his save-the-world outfit to the crowd, Jamie Durie let us know in no uncertain words that “green is the new black”. 

In his keynote, The Green Zeitgeist and where it’s taking us, international award-winning designer, author, television host and regular on the Oprah Winfrey show, shared his strong beliefs with the audience: 

“Urban vegetable gardening and farming of course is finding our ways into all of our suburbs. And as backyards get smaller and developers’ wallets get bigger, we’re finding more innovative ways to infiltrate [plants into] backyards… [and] into these built-up environments.” 

Jamie Durie of Durie Design / The Fifth Estate / Photography: Túlio Carneiro

2. There is no sustainability without Indigenous thinking

Jefa Greenaway, director of Greenaway Architects, senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne and Qantas 100 Inspiring Australians brought home the idea that there can be no sustainability without Indigenous thinking, especially since the built environment industry is so intrinsically tied to Country. 

He spoke via video link due to an unavoidable issue on the day preventing his about his inspiring wetlands project in Victoria, and the fact that he unfortunately couldn’t make it in person did nothing to dim his shine. 

The Hobsons Bay Wetland Centre in Melbourne will incorporate a learning experience visitor facility that aimed to “enhance physical and mental wellbeing”, support cutting-edge research, celebrate Country and boost ecotourism while protecting the wetland habitat that is home to a threatened species of frog.

Greenaway reminded the audience of the importance of embedding Indigenous design thinking into architecture whilst ensuring that the ecological and sustainability agenda was also pushed to the fore. 

“What this allows us to do is to heal Country, to learn from Country, and to nourish Country,” he said. 

Jefa Greenaway of Greenaway Architects, Angela Crossland of The GPT Group, and Kaylie Salvatori of COLA Studio / The Fifth Estate / Photography: Túlio Carneiro

3. Water is life 

Renée Ingram from Sydney Water spoke with MC Jess Miller (former Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney) about how to mitigate urban heat and flooding in Western Sydney, in her talk about the investment opportunity of water.

Sydney has big plans, Ingram said. Specifically, to split the city into three CBDs. And water is a vital consideration for an area of the city that deals with high heat due to a lack of access to green spaces and natural cooling wetlands and the ocean.

This poses a big question: how will Western Sydney deal with a rising population and rising heat? 

The answer is water. 

“When we look at Western Sydney right now, we have a once in a generation opportunity to shape a third CDB city… how do we incorporate into the city at these really early stages, the protection and use of water? And how can we inform that?”

4. High-quality built environment has an influence on people’s lives 

Marci Webster-Mannison, architect at Melbourne Design Studios, had a lot to say about sustainable development in a poetic address on the nuances of environmentally-sensitive design.

One of her best-known projects is the Thurgoona Campus of Charles Sturt University, with its rammed-earth buildings, recycled timber, and unique passive solar heating and cooling systems, designed to be environmentally sensitive, yet cost-efficient. 

The sustainability credentials she read seemed like poetry: 

“The formation of vistas of the stands of remnant trees, and the living museum of endemic planting along the waterways, give a voice to biodiversity. 

“One hundred per cent fresh air, abundance of natural light, and non-toxic materials breathe comfort and health. 

“The place is abuzz. We hear people thrive in these surrounds. We see how the built environment influences how people live in this learning laboratory.” 

5. It can be dangerous to romanticise green buildings

The tide is rising in favour of green buildings, and it seems every developer, architect and client wants to stick some greenery or other on their rooftop. But clients often don’t understand the nuances of green buildings, and romanticise the process. At least that’s what Peter Bottero from Tensile had to say, during his presentation in Weathershield Part A: Climate threats and how nature can protect us. 

This segment gave us a great many things that we need to know about plants in our urban environment. 

“It’s pretty basic stuff: what do plants need to grow successfully?… Sometimes, some of the basics around how to grow and sustain plants (and I emphasise the word sustain) are not always well understood.” 

For example, it is not well known that Wisteria has the power to snap steel cables. Wisteria is “a terrifying thing to behold on the sides of buildings, if it’s not maintained,” he said.

But often, it’s a struggle for plants to survive in cities.

“Cities can be really hostile for plants. It’s not just heat, a lot of the time it’s really changed environments… Buildings also dramatically affect the success of plants,” Bottero said.

6. Cities are hostile to plants, and they require thoughtful design and maintenance 

It’s not just Bottero who emphasised how hostile cities are for plants. 

In his presentation in the same session, Dr John Rayner, associate Professor in Urban Horticulture at The University of Melbourne talked about the challenges in understanding the nature of plants, the requirements to grow and sustain vegetation and research on the factors affecting plant success.

Why do plants fail? Rayner says it can be either due to a lack of diversity in their ecosystem, or due to a lack of maintainability of design. 

He’s one of many people working to prevent that, often documenting in photographic format to understand the processes.

“Yes, I do take lots of shots of dead plants,” he said. 

7. We are moving onwards and upwards – growing towards the light! 

What the overwhelming success of this event proves is that “green is the new black” and plants hold plenty of potential – and investment opportunities. 

The groundswell of greening and the engagement from the crowd prove that built environment leaders are starting to get ever more excited about greening our urban spaces, understanding the proven value uplift of nature and wanting to get their hands in the dirt to make it happen. 

Stay tuned for our ebook on the event and issues surrounding this topic.

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