No Tree Is An Island!
By Paul Davies (ISCA)
Next time you look at that tree in your front garden think about it less as a single specimen but more as a part of a wider urban forest.
The concept of urban forests is easily overlooked in cities and suburbs, but those trees perform the very same functions that trees do in natural forests. They help trap moisture, clean the air, act as wind breaks, minimise soil loss and repel heat. These trees and other vegetation are in fact, a key ally to city-communities in terms of our well-being, and that of our local environment. We all have a part to play in ensuring these trees thrive, or at least survive, in the somewhat hostile and unnatural landscape in which they’ve been planted. All sectors working across the built environment need to focus more attention on the retention, maintenance and enhancement our urban forests. The extreme pressures on the limited number of urban trees in many cities, coupled with climate change is resulting in increased heat island effect, topsoil loss, landscape erosion and declining air quality. We also pay more for energy to cool homes and offices lacking shade from trees, and our visual amenity is compromised.
It’s now better appreciated that urban forests enable better public health outcomes by encouraging us to engage and interact with the local landscape, through outdoor activities and exercise. We can now even monetise the health benefits that individual trees provide to wellness – and its substantial!
Local Councils are now applying urban forest strategies to reduce tree loss and improve existing canopy cover in urban settings. These strategies need to embrace both private and public land and consider current and future land uses. In November 2018, the Western Australian Planning Commission, the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage and the Western Australian Local Government Association released a guideline to assist Local Governments in preserving and enhancing their urban canopy. The Better Urban Forest Planning Guideline focuses on best practice in managing urban tree canopies.
The new guideline also closely aligns with, and supports, the Green Infrastructure category in the new ISv2.0 infrastructure rating scheme recently released by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA). ISCA’s members and projects pursuing ratings are always looking to push the boundaries in sustainable infrastructure development and operation, and initiatives by projects and asset owners to preserve and enhance urban forests can be explored and rewarded under the scheme as an innovation challenge.
With case studies across Australia, this is a useful resource for the active projects registered for ratings in in the planning and design stage. The Green Infrastructure Category rewards the implementation and/or incorporation of green infrastructure and can be undertaken as an Innovation challenge by all active ISv1.2 projects. This along with the many linkages to energy, ecology, context and legacy these credits can improve rating performance and importantly the longer term benefits including well-being and resilience.
ISCA commends the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage (DPLH) and the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) for producing this important guide which will increase awareness about and implementation of more green infrastructure. https://www.planning.wa.gov.au/7216.aspx.