street

Saving the environment, one pavement at a time

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Poor tree! For that matter, poor pavement!
Poor tree! For that matter, poor pavement!

The photo above underscores what street trees often have to suffer through.

With the trunk surrounded by concrete on all sides, the results are lifted pavements for pedestrians, and too little water for the tree. Amazingly, some people call for the offending trees to be cut down, but there’s a better solution.

Why not give the trees more space?

Plenty of space, with less concrete and happier trees.
Plenty of space, with less concrete and happier trees.

Marrickville Council is one council pursuing this policy. When a pavement comes up for renewal as part of the regular maintenance (planned five years ahead), a bigger opening is left for trees.

This gives the trees more space, and allows more rain to absorb into the ground, rather than into the stormwater system. I imagine it also saves a small (but measurable) amount of concrete.

Residents can't wait to plant underneath their trees.
Residents can’t wait to plant underneath their trees.

Biodiversity is also increased when low plants, such as lomandras and dianellas, are planted around the base of the trees. With an even larger space, it becomes possible to establish a true verge garden.

Marrickville Council also goes beyond this. At the time of writing, the Sustainable Streets program enables residents to cut spaces out of their concrete verge for a small fee. If the majority of a street requests street gardens then the council will cut out the concrete, provide some extra soil, and even throw in some plants for free.

The pavement running alongside Petersham Park: half concrete, half gravel.
The pavement running alongside Petersham Park: half concrete, half gravel.

As a final note, this pavement work next to Petersham Park is another small but elegant example of the principle at work. Instead of re-laying the whole pavement with concrete, gravel was laid down for half the width. When I talked to the Council about this, they highlighted the benefits of less run-off, as well as providing more rain for the avenue of trees.

Councils have a big role to play in the sustainability of our local environment. If we can keep changing default policies to encompass environmental thinking, we’re well on our way to saving the planet!

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Giving street trees more space

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Dianellas planted around the base of a Council street tree
Dianellas planted around the base of a Council street tree

One of the topics that came up at my first Marrickville Council Environment Committee meeting was the Council’s recent (?) policy of widening the cut-out around street trees, as shown in the photo above (taken a block away from our house on Old Canterbury Rd).

Hardy natives, such as Lomandras and Dianellas are then planted around the base of the tree.

This is a great idea, for a whole pile of reasons:

  • the trees get more space to grow, including better access to rainwater
  • damage to the pavement is reduced
  • the arrangement looks great
  • it increases the biodiversity of the area
  • plants such as lomandra and dianella both produce berries much liked by birds

Of course, it’s not a new idea. In the streets around us, hundreds of trees have had  plants guerrilla gardened in underneath them. The variety is the great bit, from natives to exotics, grasses and flowers. Perhaps the Council is just catching up with the local residents!

Gardening around the base of street trees -- have residents been leading the way?
Gardening around the base of street trees — have residents been leading the way?

City of Sydney’s Footpath Gardening Policy

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In urban environments, the strip of grass alongside the road is the only green space available for residents. While verge plantings are often wonderfully vibrant (including our own), they can be held back by a lack of clear support (and guidelines) from Council.

It’s therefore great to see City of Sydney get out in front on this issue:

The [City of Sydney’s] Footpath Gardening Policy has been developed in order to allow the public to establish a garden or nature strip without a development application. Council adopted the recommendation to allocate an impressive $50,000 for seeds and plant boxes to help kickstart this important process for the first six months.

via Concrete Playground.

We’re aware that there’s a draft policy in progress at Marrickville Council, although it’s been a long time coming, and still hasn’t seen the light of day. Hopefully soon!