When queried about good references in urban forestry, Melbourne is typically among the first suggested by expert audiences. What has led to such notoriety? What can others learn from the City of Melbourne’s urban forestry and wider urban greening work? Where is this work heading now?
The millennium drought (1997 to 2009), rising temperatures and an ageing tree population threatened Melbourne with an environmental challenge, one that could compromise its ability to achieve high liveability standards for a rapidly growing population. This created an imperative for city officials to take steps to manage the effects of higher temperatures and unpredictable climatic events.
One of the immediate responses to the drought was to control the use of water. As a result of its Total Watermark: City as a Catchment Strategy (first released in 2009), the city succeeded in reducing water demand per head by nearly 50 percent. The city administration also developed a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for mitigating the effects of extreme heat and other risks induced by climate changes. Public realm trees were identified as a critical, yet threatened and underused asset. As a result, in 2012, a 20-year Urban Forest Strategy was launched. The strategy aims to double City of Melbourne’s public realm canopy cover from its baseline level at 22% to 40% by 2040. It also aims to increase urban forest diversity, so that the city-owned tree population is composed of no more than 5% of any given species, 10% of any genus and 20% of any one family – a goal following an urban forestry good practice known as the “Santamour rule”. Improving vegetation health, soil moisture, water quality as well as urban ecology while keeping the community informed and involved are additional objectives pursued.
A minimum of 3,000 trees are planted across Melbourne’s public realm each year.