A major urban greening initiative across six local councils has dramatically reshaped western Melbourne’s tree cover, making the area more liveable and cooler, an RMIT University study has found.
The case study examined Melbourne’s “Greening the West” program, which since being initiated by City West Water in 2011 has seen almost one million trees planted across Brimbank, Hobsons Bay, Maribyrnong, Melton, Moonee Valley, Wyndham and surrounds.
Lead researcher, Dr Casey Furlong from RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research, said that the program represented a major win for residents who face significant socioeconomic and health disadvantages in comparison to the rest of Melbourne.
“These vulnerabilities are compounded by a significant deficit in trees and quality public green space,” Furlong said.
“Melbourne’s western suburbs currently have tree canopy coverage of only 5 to 10 per cent, whereas the rest of Melbourne’s suburbs have between 10 and 30 per cent.
“Greening the West has made substantial on-the-ground differences, most notably adding almost one million more trees in and around Melbourne’s west, and contributed indirectly to increasing the number of street trees through changing local government priorities.
“There are significantly more trees in the streets, parks, waterway corridors and drainage reserves of Melbourne’s western suburbs thanks to this group’s existence.”
These efforts could lead to major environmental, economic and health pay offs for locals, the study notes.
These include reduced temperatures, better air quality, increased house prices and worker productivity, as well as increased exercise, reduced obesity and illness, and reduced mortality during heatwaves.
According to Dr Furlong the collaborative nature of the program also offers a successful model for tackling other complex urban challenges.
“Greening the West involves 23 member organisations, including State government departments and agencies, water utilities and community groups. By bringing many players together, the program shows how collaborative approaches to improving urban greening, cooling and liveability can make a major difference for Melbourne,” Furlong said.
“For example, the group’s regional collaborative model unlocked opportunities for Federal and State government funding.
“Because of its similar profile to western Melbourne, a collaborative greening initiative like this could be rolled out in western Sydney. A similar regional model could also be used to address other complex challenges like homelessness,” he said .
Mayor of Brimbank Cr John Hedditch said Brimbank was proud to be part of the Greening the West program – having planted 180,000 trees since the program began, including 150,000 funded through the Australian Government’s 20 Million Trees Project.
“As part of our commitment to Greening the West, in 2016 Council developed an Urban Forest Strategy which aims to increase canopy coverage across Brimbank from 6.2 per cent to 30 per cent in the next 30 years,” Cr Hedditch said.
“Within Brimbank we are planting trees to shade and cool our city, which helps to reduce the impacts of climate change.
“Council is delighted that this important research is raising awareness of the vital work that Brimbank and other partners are carrying out as part of Greening the West and the benefits that increased tree canopy coverage can provide to our communities.”