Urban forestry, Melbourne, Australia

All in the planning

Gardiner Reserve Park was identified for an expansion and makeover in the City of Melbourne’s 2012 Open Space Strategy, while associated opportunities for new tree planting were highlighted in the City’s Urban Forest Strategy, and the associated local precinct plan. Image credit: City of Melbourne

Having detailed, council-endorsed workplans has proven critical in multiples ways, for enabling the delivery of such an ambitious programme.

It first and foremost guaranteed on-going political commitment to funding implementation, something other strategies devoid of similar politically endorsed workplans cannot rely on. The Urban Forest Precinct Plans have access to two funding streams: the capital tree planting budget, which funds the bulk of the plantings programmed in the precincts plans and a climate change adaptation budget, which can be used where there is scope to initiate a more ambitious street redesign. This might involve the reconfiguration of drainage to enhance tree access to water. It might also mean footpaths widening or any other reallocation of space that can provide an enhanced tree growing environment for large specimen, while also supporting the city’s quality of life and sustainable mobility objectives. This set up gives the City of Melbourne’s Parks and City Greening department the unusual ability to initiate significant streetscape works, rather than being confined to piggybacking on other department’s work programmes.

Having detailed and adopted workplans also granted the City of Melbourne’s urban forestry workstream the transparency and visibility needed to facilitate the cross-departmental collaboration required for large-scale public realm tree planting or replacement, especially where changes to the street layout are involved. A streetscape coordination committee was established bringing together, on a monthly basis, the Traffic and Parking, Capital Works and Parks and City Greening departments. The committee ensures that, wherever capital or refurbishment work is being planned in the streetscape, adequate green infrastructure provision is integrated into the projects, following the priorities and principles defined in the Urban Forest Precinct Plans. It also enables budgets and community engagement efforts to be shared across teams. Similar coordination takes place with the urban design team, when new developments make contributions to public realm improvements.

Finally, such thorough detailing and endorsement of workplans has given the City of Melbourne’s Parks and City Greening department the ability to respond very quickly to any unforeseen funding opportunities with readymade projects supported by evidence, community approval and political backing. For example when the State of Victoria issued emergency funding to tackle the unemployment crisis generated by the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, Melbourne’s Parks and City Greening team was able to develop and submit in less than two weeks a funding application for a suite of ‘rapid greening’ projects that could put 64 people back to work. These projects involved the planting of no less than 150,000 small trees, shrubs and grasses, designed to create 24,000m² of understorey habitat across a range of parks, open spaces and streets. Shovels hit the dirt on this project within four weeks of application.