By Alison Dean
The greatest effect from climate change is, of course, increased summer temperatures that affect people’s, and all creature’s, health. Therefore, to improve our amenities and to mitigate the effects of climate change, we need to adapt our habits and habitats to both reduce and cope with extreme temperatures.
We all know that we need to improve our tree canopy, to reduce urban heat islands (UHI) and reduce the effects of climate change. The success of the tree canopy is directly linked to the health of our community as climate change progresses. I believe we need a greater plan of how we are going to do that.
Currently I have not seen proof that the activities to date by Moonee Valley Council are going to increase our tree canopy sufficiently to mitigate the effects of climate change. If there is a plan, I think it needs to be shared with us all and made into a direction that the whole community can strive for together. Currently most of the community do not understand why we need to improve our canopy, or even that we do need to improve it.
We need MVCC’s plans for increased tree canopy to be transparent so we know how it’s going to work. Some Moonee Valley street tree choices are not big enough to improve the tree canopy enough to mitigate extreme temperatures: for example Crepe Myrtles on Buckley Street. Community engagement would help increase awareness of how tree maintenance can support the canopy objective.
We also need to review the design of street nature strips to increase growing space of trees, we may need to reduce car park spaces to do this, but with education of the community of the dire situation we are facing with UHI and climate change, community will hopefully come on board. Especially if these changes are paired with increasing community gathering spaces as has been done on Union Road in Ascot Vale. Let’s use this example to see where we can improve tree canopy and community amenities in many other streets across Moonee Valley.
We need to review the horticulture budget, to assess how best to provide ecological amenity to our community. Although Queens Park and the median strips on Mount Alexander Road are lovely, we need to reduce time and money spent on annuals and be a beacon of a display garden to show the residents what a water wise Australian garden can look like. We need to show off more indigenous grassland species, which are very beautiful, but are new to many residents in their gardens.
Display gardens can also provide community education about habitat gardens, showcasing our indigenous flora and fauna and providing valuable habitat. Indigenous flora is a very important aspect to showcase, as loss of biodiversity has been scientifically assessed to be as dire as climate change across the world. We need to also put the spot light on loss of biodiversity.
We also need to review town planning landscape plans, so that they meet the needs of improving our environment, to mitigate the effects of climate change. Water Sensitive Urban Design and purposeful and effective tree design, establishment and survival for necessary tree canopy development in private properties. This currently may be in policies, but we need to regulate and enforce these policies to ensure the health of our environment and the health of us, so that we can survive extreme temperatures. Many developments are in breach of policies, and it does directly affect the health of our community.
Water sensitive urban design goes hand in hand with the need for less concrete/impervious surfaces in developments. The overuse of concrete paving in developments across our city has several issues, from embodied energy, also being an impervious surface that collects and does not filter stormwater, but also being a source of thermal mass, which increases the temperature of our city. Private properties should not be allowed to concrete their front yards or backyards. We also need to review the number of occupancies per property to ensure that sufficient vegetation and tree canopy can be provided for the health of the community.
When looking into improving the tree canopy to mitigate climate change, we also need to look below our feet at the soil. We need the trees that we plant not only to survive, but we need the trees to thrive to produce a healthy canopy to shade us from extreme sun. Tree health is directly linked to soil health and access to water. We need to start looking after the soil. Current practices from developers to MVCC do not adequately manage soil. Soil health needs to be considered and directed in policies for developments and for MVCC tree management, to ensure that we have an adequate tree canopy to mitigate climate change in Moonee Valley.
I love that in MV2040 strategy we are aiming towards greater tree canopy, but I think we need to do more. Street trees are inadequate. Developments continue to make poor tree choices that do not increase our canopy cover. And many of these newly planted street and development trees are not thriving. I am worried about the state of our habitat and lack of tree canopy. The areas explored here are, I believe, necessary to improve our habitat so that we may survive the increasing adversities to our environment due to climate change.
Alison Dean is a Horticulturalist and Landscape Designer for Greenshade.