Friday, June 17, 2016

Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards

Sometimes in life we do have to go backwards in order to go forwards and I'm increasingly convinced that creating a sustainable urban forest is one of those times.

We need to transition our urban forest virtually 100% onto public land where it can be protected in perpetuity and yes, that might involve some temporary canopy loss.

Large scale infill has to happen in Perth. It's a no-brainer. We'll go broke otherwise. We simply cannot afford to keep paying three times as much to service a greenfield residential lot ($150,000) compared to an infill lot ($50,000). And trying to retain mature trees on infilled sites is, to quote Darryl in The Castle, "dreamin' ".  After 30 plus years experience working with big trees, I'm convinced it's not realistic.

Why not?

Because trees are like people. When they're young, they adapt to their environment and can perform very well over a long period of time in very ordinary circumstances. These Spotted Gums for instance would have been planted small and have adapted to their environment and are doing well despite the tough conditions. If however this same townhouse development had been built around existing Spotted Gums this size, they would almost certainly have started declining after a few years and probably not be worth two bob after ten.

See what I'm saying?

We can go to great lengths and design all our development around trees only to have the selfish things not play ball!

It's a factor that's constantly overlooked in this discussion. We love to publicise "trees-retained-in-development" stories, but do we ever go back and see how they're doing ten years later? A development that will be there for 100+ years can be designed around trees that only last another ten! It's clearly a nonsense.

So, back to where I started: I would focus less on retaining trees on infill sites and start planting flat out into public spaces. Yes, there will be a period where our canopy cover goes backwards but in the long term we will be much better off.

I read a report this week from the City of Stirling which said they plant 7,000 trees a year but to really make an impact they estimate they would need to plant 22,000 a year. "However, " the report said, "there isn't the space to plant those sorts of numbers…"


I could plant 22,000 trees into the streets and parks of Doubleview alone if I was allowed! That's just the statement of a council that's not trying hard enough and still has the old-fashioned "one tree per frontage" mentality.

Here's the facts: there is room to plant TENS OF MILLIONS of trees into Perth's public land - ie it's streets and parks - and that's a hell of a lot more than is going to be lost from private land due to infill over the next 15 years. We just need to man up and make some hard decisions. And put our money where our talk is. This is not a cost, it's an investment in our city's future. OUR future.

Other places are already doing this.

We're still just dicking around in Perth with our half-baked tree planting programs where most of them die anyway.

Councils, it's time to lead your community, not be afraid of it. Serious change takes courage and commitment. It often means not being popular but going ahead anyway because you know it's the right thing to do and that people will thank you for it later*.

Which of you is going to show the way and put serious funding into urban forest AND make sure there is accountability for results?

* A great recent example was Claremont Council which voted to close its golf course and turn it into a world class environmental area. The opposition was significant at the time but they stuck to their guns and very few people would go back now!


  1. I don't believe the second oval should be allowed. I get your point about trees adapting to different environments when they're young, but this proposal is to cut them down for the sake of a second oval. Just refuse the second oval and the existing trees can continue as they have been for the last several decades. This proposal also seems a bit like privatising our public space- not sure that is a good thing. As to your end question, I think (hope) Bayswater will be the one to lead the way.

    1. Hi Chris
      You may be right - I don't know the particulars of the Eagles proposal. I only cited it because it prompted me to start thinking about the general principle of sometimes having to go backwards to go forwards. And overall I think that's what we're going to have to accept….ie that Perth's canopy cover will get worse before it gets better. I don't see that as necessarily a bad thing if it means we're setting up our urban forest to be truly sustainable long term.

  2. I should have added to the above reply that Chris's point about "privatising public space" is also a good one. If we transition our urban forest to public land, lease that land and let the lessee remove trees from it, we're obviously going one step forward, two steps backward. Again, I don't know the details of the Lathlain proposal and each case should be assessed on it's merits but I agree, there are some concerns here. I probably should have just written the article without reference to this particular situation. In fact, I'll remove reference to it so there's no confusion!

  3. Can we have a blog towards Lathlain Park Please... #helpsavelathlainparktrees!!!

    1. Without knowing the full story I'm reluctant to wade into the Lathlain Park situation. Do we know why the Eagles believe a second oval is so essential to their plans?