Urban greening essential to environmental and social health of Australian cities
1 March 2009
Hosting the inaugural Urban GreenScapes Symposium in Canberra on February 17 has given the NGIA (Nursery & Garden Industry) the platform to increase awareness of some of the key issues which will impact on our future.
Although many of the key issues on the benefits of green space are well documented, the Symposium facilitated the opportunity to present a broad spectrum of research in one program focusing on the impact of increased urban greening with regard to health and wellbeing, environment and planning.
The objective of the exercise was to bring as many stakeholders as possible together in one place to agree on the path forward to promote and implement increased urban greening as part of policy and development. This was the first time for most of the presenters and some of the delegates where all the silos were exposed to each other to view the big picture and the issues.
The findings out of the Symposium give the industry and stakeholders a broad perspective on how the issues and opportunities can impact on our future. For example, if we don’t do something about the growing trends of limited backyards in new housing developments and reduced urban community green space, what will happen to our industry? In other words, if there is no place to plant trees and gardens who will buy our plants? What is the future role of landscapers and landscape architects and designers?
We need to showcase the importance of urban canopy cover, community green space, gardens and street plantings in relation to health, social wellbeing and the environment. The best way to do this is to present economic modeling that supports urban greening as a managed asset that contributes to the social and environmental health of our cities and citizens. For example; according to Professor Greg McPherson, for every dollar spent on urban green space in New York they received five dollars worth of benefits in relation to energy efficiency, carbon sequestration, improved air quality, evaporative cooling and reduced heat island effect.
With regard to health, Associate Professor Mardie Townsend presented a correlation between local access to parks and gardens with increased physical exercise. Given that physical inactivity contributes to over 8,600 deaths in Australia each year (Australian National Health Survey 2004-05) and direct health costs relating to poor physical activity are estimated around $377 million (1996) it makes perfect economic sense to create more urban green space.
Changes are needed to commercial and domestic urban planning laws. In order for this to happen we, growers, garden designers, local government and landscapers, need to work together and speak in an economic language that makes sense to policy makers and developers. We need recent, relevant and local research and data to present a strong case that will enable us all to explain the crucial role that trees, gardens and greenscapes play in the urban landscape.
Unfortunately we did not get the planners or landscapers along in droves, not for the want of trying, but we now have the messages, and will be developing the tools, strategies and insight to show that the nursery industry is serious about getting more green space (plants) in the urban environment throughout Australia and we want the landscape industry and other stakeholders to come to the table with us.
The next steps will involve speaking with government, policy developers and stakeholder groups to build momentum and increase support for the positioning of green-life and plants as part of the solution for a socially and environmentally healthier Australia. In short, we want to ensure a sustainable and profitable future for all green-life stakeholders.
Top image: Greg McPherson from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Centre for Urban Forest Research.
Bottom image: Associate Professor Mardie Townsend from Deakin University.
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