Georgia Sedgmen

For many developers landscape is just “dead land” – that is there’s no money in it. But that’s not the findings of a new report that says economists could do well to give tree cover, green space and cultural features such as cafes the same weighting as transport, employment and other factors that contribute to liveability.

The report Domain Liveable Sydney 2016 recently completed by Tract, with Deloitte Access Economics was part of a presentation by Tract senior town planner Georgia Sedgmen at the Living Cities Summit in Sydney this week, held by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects NSW chapter.

Ms Sedgmen told The Fifth Estate, there was a need to balance tree cover and open space with developing housing close to transport.

Poor landscaping and a dearth of trees increased the propensity for flooding, with mostly “roofs and roads” and not enough permeable soil to absorb heavy rainfall. It also had implications in terms of heating and cooling, she said.

It’s why western Sydney is on average 10 degrees hotter than the north shore and other areas.

The risk is that much new detached housing actually lacks the traditional benefits of this, with blocks getting smaller and houses are getting bigger, leaving no room for a back yard or tree planting.

This then puts pressure on local government to provide street trees on public land for shade.

However, Ms Sedgmen said , trees also needed to be provided on private lots, “they need to have space on the lots for trees.”

“Is this detached housing stock actually producing what we want, or do we need to rethink that?” she asked.

Some of the council representatives at the summit said that masterplan tended to yield better green space and tree cover. However, the majority of development was small lots by small developers working without a masterplan, so the demand for green space and tree cover gets “placed back on the public domain.”

In new fast developing areas it was often difficult to find sufficient private open space, or public open space.

Masterplans in growth areas made open space more likely, however, trees were generally put in last and new vegetation takes time to establish.

There was a need for education around the need to provide soft landscaping, she said.

“That’s an element where councils need to play a firm, strategic role, not just leave it up to the developers.

“Councils need to have firm aims and targets [around green infrastructure], and this needs to be fed into the development assessment teams,” Ms Sedgmen said.

She said that while these kinds of targets have always been in the Sydney strategies at a broader level, the question is, “are we getting the result we want?”

“If not, what needs to be done?”

Strategic planning needed to play a more vital role, not just statutory planning, she said.

Ms Sedgmen said the hope is that if the Greater Sydney Commission and the District Plans include some clear environmental goals and targets, this may feed into the local environmental plans being developed by councils.

She said AILA and other organisations also need to be involved in these conversations.

Other speakers at the event included NSW minister for planning Rob Stokes Western Sydney director of the Sydney Business Chamber David Borger, director metropolitan branch NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, acting executive director, Sydney Living Museums Caroline Butler-Bowden, Lend Lease principal urban design Michelle Cramer, Committee for Sydney chief executive Tim Williams; AECOM’s James Rosenwax and Roger Swinbourne from AECOM and AILA NSW president Gareth Collins.

Discussions built on a five point plan developed at the inaugural Living Cities Summit held jointly by AILA and Engineers Australia in Canberra in February this year, focusing on how the plan can be implemented in New South Wales.

The plan covers the recognition, funding, implementation, improvement and assessment of green infrastructure initiatives with the ultimate aim of improving the liveability, productivity and sustainability of Australian cities.

Key topics revolved around funding green infrastructure, recognising it as an asset class and removing barriers for local government and district plans to implement it.

“Green infrastructure is essential for the future prosperity and well-being of our cities,” Mr Collins told The Fifth Estate.

“The green open space; tree groves, woodlands and avenues; water courses; green ways; green roofs; national, regional, local and pocket parks; sports grounds, golf courses and ovals; street trees; nature strips and gardens are as important to a successful city as any other type of infrastructure.

“We need to learn from the systems, alliances and processes so effective in delivering transport infrastructure.”

Mr Collins said the summit was insightful and inspired comments from participants such as “Green infrastructure is the urban infrastructure we need but hidden in plain sight,” and, “it is the space on the page that makes the words – or built form – make sense.”

In his speech, David Borger asked attendees to focus on street trees as a way of generating significant positive change in our less leafy suburbs. Tom Grosskopf in his drew the link between green infrastructure and the urban wildlife that pollinates it and enriches our lives.

Dr Caroline Butler-Bowden pointed out the social dimension, telling the audience that our cultural and natural heritage is a building block for unique context sensitive cities.

Tim Williams said the best cities “start with a park”, and David Raison of Lawn Solutions Australia pointed out that “no one lies down on concrete”.

Michelle Cramer presented on “turning the grey to green”, and showed how an organisation and a project like Darling Quarter can contribute to green Infrastructure.

Roger Swinbourne spoke on the techniques and tools that will enable stakeholders to evaluate green infrastructure.

Mr Collins said that everyone present agreed with Rob Stokes when he said that that we live in the landscape, and that no longer can we use land unconsciously. That we need to value our natural systems and ensure they are resilient enough to cope with the significant changes and growth ahead of us.