15 March 2018

Assembly Inquiry into Nature in Our City

| Suzanne Orr MLA
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Scrivener Dam

Photo: Jack Mohr.

Canberra is affectionately known as the “Bush Capital” which is not surprising given the abundance of nature within our city. But Canberra is growing, and with that comes greater challenges to ensuring our natural environment is maintained within our city boundaries.

With this in mind, the Environment and Transport and City Services Committee is undertaking an inquiry into nature in our city. This inquiry is a great opportunity for Canberrans to have their say about how the balance of natural and urban environments can be managed in Canberra, now and into the future.

It is expected that by 2030, Canberra’s population will reach 500,000 people. It is well known that expanding populations lead to expanding urban areas. Whether we develop up or develop out, it places pressure on the balance between our natural and urban environments.

The good news is it’s not necessarily a case of having one or the other – there is room for both – but we will need to be proactive to ensure that as Canberra urbanises we keep nature in our city.

Canberra is not the first city to face the challenge of balancing natural and urban environments, so there are a lot of examples we can draw from.

In May 2009 Toronto became the first city in North America to mandate green roofs on all new developments. The introduction of the rule has seen 260 green roofs built across the city since 2010. Copenhagen, Zurich and Tokyo all have similar mandates. While green roofs – as well as green walls – have become prominent examples of “living infrastructure” they are not the only example.

Waterways restored to creek beds, tree canopies, pocket parks, larger parks and in fact any nature within an urban area are all examples of living infrastructure.

From an environmental perspective, a healthy natural environment within a city improves ecosystem biodiversity, reduces pollution, mitigates extreme heat and can act as a carbon sink among many other benefits.

Studies increasingly indicate connection with nature is good for our health and wellbeing. When natural outdoor areas are appealing and accessible, we’re more likely to go outside and be exposed to sunlight and fresh air and also connect with our community.

However, there are some things to keep in mind when combining our natural and urban environments. Natural reserves within and at the edges of cities present their own particular challenges. These areas need to be managed so they are not degraded and are kept safe while being conscious of increased risks associated with natural impacts such as bushfires.

The Cyprus Views Grasslands in Caroline Springs, Victoria is an example of how a natural area with high biodiversity and conservation values can be integrated with the urban environment that surrounds it. Rather than fencing the grasslands and locking up the reserve, the council undertook to make the site accessible as a community recreation facility. Raised footpaths allow access into and around the grasslands and a lookout tower provides community space. The grasses don’t get trampled, the risk of weed contamination is lowered, and people get to enjoy the outdoor environment.

If you have ideas or opinions to share on this topic, make a submission to the Committee before Friday 8 June 2018. You can find details here on how to make a submission.

Suzanne Orr MLA is the Chair of the Environment and Transport and City Services Committee.

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I will probably be making a submission to this Inquiry, on the basis I cannot bleat about inaction if I haven’t. Seriously, the need to do something about the degradation of our non built environment has been obvious for quite a while now. A few things that immediately come to mind is how trees in suburban parks have been left to die, then chopped down when they become a hazard but are rarely replaced with new suitable trees and the ongoing soil compaction through allowing the small parks and green areas to become over flow car parks.

What needs to be done is a ongoing strategic investment in ensuring appropriate vegetation js in place, community engagement to ensure the spaces are adopted by people who live or work near them and a zero tolerance approach to soil compaction issues including delegating the issue of parking infringements to the urban rangers.

Now to go for my morning walk, while dodging tradies utes parked in the parks, ensure I have a hat on because the trees have died and the sun has a sting to it while ensuring I don’t trip in wheel ruts.

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