Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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Sydney tackles urban heat island effect with ‘urban forest’ growth

Sydney has unveiled a comprehensive plan to enhance canopy coverage in Australia’s largest city, with the goal of creating more sustainable and resilient urban communities that are accessible to all.

To address the challenges posed by a changing climate, the City of Sydney (CofS) has collaborated with Indigenous ecologists, landscape architects, arboriculturists and scientists in developing a comprehensive plan that includes specific strategies and initiatives to improve the quantity and quality of urban tree canopy coverage.

The plan is available for community review and comment until February 28, 2023 (details below).

“We know how important urban forests are to the liveability of our city. Trees cool our homes, streets and parks, build resilience and improve mental and physical wellbeing,” Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

“We’ve planted more than 16,000 street trees since 2004 because we see trees and other urban greenery as essential infrastructure – as important as roads and broadband internet.”

Sustainability architect and CofS councillor HY William Chan, tabled the urban forest strategies to Council while chairing the environment committee. Councillor Chan said that Sydney was the only Australian capital city that has made a concerted effort to increase canopy cover consistently over the past decade.

“Given the ongoing climate crisis, it’s crucial that we take steps to mitigate the environmental and health impacts. Sydney’s new Urban Forest Strategy and Street Tree Master Plan will allow us to continue this progress and further enhance the city’s living habitat and biodiversity,” Councillor Chan said.

“The urban heat island effect is a significant concern, and increasing shade coverage throughout the city can help to combat this and protect our community from extreme heatwaves. Research has shown that effective and extensive canopy cover can actually reduce ground temperatures by up to 10 degrees.”

To prepare for a future climate that is expected to be more similar to that of Grafton in northern New South Wales by 2050, the CofS has carefully chosen tree species that are likely to thrive in the anticipated hotter and more humid conditions. This has informed the city’s selection of trees for planting and maintenance.

“We have gone block by block, street by street across the whole city to map out which tree species are most appropriate. Native species are our preference, but we also have to plant deciduous trees that provide shade in summer and let light through to homes in winter,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

The CofS has set a bold target to increase its overall green cover to 40 per cent by 2050, including a minimum of 27 per cent tree canopy. Currently, streets and parks have approximately 50,000 trees that help to purify the air and sequester around 440 tonnes of carbon annually. It is estimated that there are an additional 40,000 trees on private land within the city.

To develop these proposals and plans, the CofS has enlisted the expertise of professionals in arboriculture, climate change, landscape architecture, and Indigenous ecology.

“By collaborating with an Indigenous ecologist, we have gained valuable insights that will help us strengthen our connection to Country and embed First Nations’ knowledge into our green infrastructure practices,” Councillor Chan said.

“Working with our arborists and geo-spatial experts, we have also developed a user-friendly online map that translates these greening policies into an interactive, visual form for the community to engage with. We’re using world-leading GIS technology so that the community can enter an address, view the species that are recommended for planting on their street, and provide feedback directly to have their say.”

The CofS’s strategies and plans to expand tree canopy cover were endorsed for community comment at the December Council meeting.

Until February 28, 2023, the community can now review and comment on:

Together, these proposed policies and strategies will guide decision making to increase the quality and quantity of Sydney’s urban forest.

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