World Forum on Urban Forests: Call for trees to shape city planning

Designs for new urban park – Melbourne

World Forum on Urban Forests: Call for trees to shape city planning

The first World Forum on Urban Forests will be held in Mantua, Italy from 28 November to 1 December 2018. This inaugural event will bring together experts from around the world – including urban foresters, arborists, planners, scientists, landscape architects and many other stakeholders – to discuss how to make cities greener, healthier and happier.

As well as launching long-term collaborations around the development of sustainable cities, the Forum will provide a perfect setting to showcase the best nature-based solutions that can be applied to urban environments. It will also be catalyst for calls to action, which have already begun in the lead up to the Forum.

Stefano Boeri, the architect behind Vertical Forests, is urging planners around the world to consider urban forestry as a core element of all city planning projects. Boeri, whose Milan-based architecture studio is making an impact in the sustainable building space, is best known for the incredible Vertical Forest project in Milan – a pair of award-winning twin towers covered in scrubs and floral plants. This project has become a model for ecological residential building, and Boeri now wants to engage all architects, designers and planners to integrate green spaces into their projects.

Boeri’s vision is for more than just sustainable architecture. It includes incorporating trees, gardens and woods as essential components for all projects. As well as providing visual beauty, urban trees bring many benefits that improve quality of life. These benefits include reducing CO2 emissions, improving air quality and protecting biodiversity.

Recent research shows that forests and trees absorb one fifth of carbon emissions produced by cities worldwide. Similarly, leaves and roots help reduce pollutants which contribute to respiratory diseases that kill 7 million people a year globally, according to the World Health Organisation. With around two thirds of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2030, now is the time to start imagining new, greener urban landscapes. Particularly since urban areas currently account for more than 70% of global greenhouse emissions, despite covering only 2% of the world’s landmass.

“If a single tree can bring great benefits to the city and its inhabitants, an urban forest can be an extraordinary help to improve the quality of health and life in a city”, Boeri says.

Boeri will be one of many experts speaking at the World Forum for Urban Forestry. For more information on the Forum, visit the official website.

Designs for new urban park – Melbourne’s first since 1980

Designs for new urban park – Melbourne

Landscape Architects, Oculus, have designed a new urban park for Melbourne’s CBD. The proposed park, which would be Melbourne’s first new public space since the City Square in 1980, spans 1,900 square meters. It is designed to occupy the western side of Market Street in Melbourne, including 1,300 meters of space which is currently used for car parking.

The park comes as part of an agreement between the City of Melbourne and the developer of the adjoining Collins Arch – a 164 metre twin tower, colloquially named “Pantscraper”. The proposal for Pantscraper was initially rejected by the state planning minister in 2014 because it breeched rules about overshading Melbourne’s famous Yarra River. However, it was later approved when the height was reduced – and the addition of this new park was negotiated.

The City of Melbourne is currently seeking public feedback on the park, which will feature a series of large, open lawn spaces on both the Market and Collins Street sides. It will include a modern terrace with water play elements and a paved plaza on Market Street, which could be used for public events. It will also include improved pedestrian access to the tram stop on Collins Street, plus a dedicated bike lane of the eastern side of Market Street.

Claire Martin, associate director of Oculus, said the park would be an “important addition” to the Melbourne CBD. “The introduction of an open green space will help extend the urban forest for public enjoyment,” she said.

“The park design is distinctly Melbourne, drawing on the materiality and history of the surrounding CBD streets and heritage buildings, incorporating elements of bluestone and sandstone”.

“The park will feature a number of environmental and biophilic elements, including an extensive tree canopy of varying heights woven throughout the space which will help to mitigate heat, the evaporative cooling benefits of the adjacent water wall, and use of local materials and place-based references”, Claire added.

“Perennial borders been incorporated to increase biodiversity in the city, utilizing where possible locally indigenous plants that were in the area prior to settlement.”

The council’s Future Melbourne Committee unanimously endorsed the plans at a meeting on 18 September. Community consultation closes on 10 October. If approved, the park will be developed by Cbus Property and handed back to the City of Melbourne for public use once complete.


Green rooftop gardens encouraged by Brisbane City Council

green rooftop garden

Under proposed changes to Brisbane’s City Plan, developers will be encouraged to include green rooftop gardens and communal spaces on new residential buildings. The amended plan, which was announced by Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, cements council support for more green spaces and communal areas, particularly in apartment projects.

“These changes will allow new developments to include a rooftop communal area, without listing it as an additional storey”, Lord Mayor Quirk said.

“Council will also have the ability to ask developers to incorporate and maintain green spaces on the rooftops and walls of new apartment buildings, to support our vision of a clean, green and sustainable city”, he added.

The policy change has been supported by developers, who will no longer need to cut through red tape to include gardens in apartment projects.

Simon White, design manager of Aria Property Group, said the move “will make it easier for developers to deliver higher quality and more comfortable and useable spaces”. He added that “the roofscape of high-density buildings is a huge opportunity to deliver world-class amenity for residents”.

Under the city’s current rules, any roofed structure on an apartment complex is classified as a “storey” by council. “This means that a 10-storey apartment building with a fixed shade structure over a BBQ area or pool has been defined as 11-storeys under the City Plan”, explained Mia Hickey, principal at planning consultancy Hickey Oatley.

“If the acceptance outcome for the site’s building height is 10 storeys, this has meant that the proposal is non-compliant”, Hickey added. “To avoid this, developers have had to provide rooftops without appropriate shading to protect its residents and visitors from Brisbane’s hot climate.”

green rooftop garden - Brisbane

Brisbane rooftop development including Aria’s Melbourne residences and the Emporium hotel Southbank.

Creating green space was one of the key priorities of the “Plan Your Brisbane” campaign – a ratepayer-funded initiative by council – and Lord Mayor Quirk reinforced its importance when announcing the proposed changes.

“Brisbane is Australia’s most biodiverse capital city, with more species of native plants and wildlife than any other in Australia and new developments that incorporate greenery contribute to our vision of creating a city of urban gardens”, he said.


Tree-clad vertical tower proposed for Toronto, Canada

vertical forest - Toronto Canada
A rendering for the proposed 27-storey Designers Walk building in Toronto.
It’s part of an international movement in creating vertical urban forests.

Toronto architects Brisbin Brook Beynon have designed plans for a ground-breaking tower featuring more than 450 urban trees. The difference between this building and others is that none of the trees will be potted. Instead, they will form a vertical forest, fusing the natural outdoors with indoor spaces.

According to architect Brian Brisbin, “A vertical forest is really like a hillside. It’s not potted plants on a decorated building. The building is really a host, like a hillside”, he said.

The proposed building will have over 450 trees, with irrigation, fertilizing and monitoring systems all built into the structure. Each tree will have its own computerised ID and will be monitored by an offsite control system. Sensors reading irrigation and nutrient levels will also be fitted, as its anticipated that each tree will have different needs, depending on where it’s situated.

The building will be the first of its kind in Canada and is being planned for a plot next to Designers Walk – an area of offices for architects and designers at the intersection of the Annex and Yorkville Neighbourhoods.

The development application is currently with the City of Toronto, and the innovative design has everyone talking. It draws on what people want to see (more trees than glass and steel) and what cities want to achieve (buildings that benefit the urban climate, rather than contribute to the heat-island effect). It also breaks down traditional barriers between nature and the built environment.

“Twenty-five years ago, awareness of the heat-island effect, storm-water management and green roofs wasn’t that profound, because the consequences hadn’t quite been as clear,” Mr. Brisbin said. A traditional glass and steel condo does “absolutely zero for the heat-island effect of our cities. It’s doing nothing for the green canopy, oxygen, carbon dioxide. So our approach is literally nature and its relationship to an urban environment, and how it’s going to survive the heat-island effect and carbon footprint,” he added.

The design also solves the complex problem of creating more tree canopies while contending with space and budget challenges. “You simply can’t increase the city’s canopy by 30 to 40 per cent [by planting trees] on the sidewalk. So, we have to look at a solution that’s vertical,” Mr. Brisbin said.

While the proposed building has clear aesthetic and environmental benefits for the City of Toronto, Mr Brisbin sees potential for something bigger – a new micro-industry of tree-clad technology that could be applied to other buildings.

“We’re trying to set a standard with a team here,” he said, indicating that it could become a new arm of consulting, to create a fully sustainable micro-climate exterior, “not a decorated building with potted plants.”

The developers for the proposed tower are Cityzen Development Group, who are best known for the head-turning “Marilyn Monroe” condo towers in Mississauga. This is going to be one to watch.


Australia’s first urban forestry school is coming to Melbourne

Melbourne's urban forest

The City of Melbourne has joined forces with the prestigious University of Melbourne to create a new study program on urban forestry. The inaugural Australian School of Forestry will be held from 11–16 November 2018. It is the first course of its kind in Australia – and one of few study programs in the world dedicated to understanding and preserving urban forests.

The program offers an interactive learning experience delivered by some of Australia’s leading urban forest practitioners and researchers. It will explore environmental and social issues impacting urban forests, and how cities can continue to enjoy healthy street trees in the face of increasing challenges.

In terms of delivery and structure, the program will include a combination of skills-based workshops, case studies and field visits, during which participants will be introduced to real-world challenges facing urban forestry. It is suitable for all professionals in the urban greenspace industry, community advocacy, environmental health, and policy management with a desire to develop their skills and knowledge in the multi-disciplinary field of urban forestry.

The program was introduced by Melbourne Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood, who spoke about the development of program and the importance of street trees to Melbourne culture.

“Our tree-lined streets contribute enormously to Melbourne’s liveability, from providing much needed shade in summer to mitigate the urban heat island effect to helping reduce stormwater run-off and pollution. After a decade of drought and extreme heat many of our trees are in accelerated decline and we face the challenge of climate future proofing our urban canopy”, he said.

“Our dedicated Urban Forest and Ecology teams have become world leading in research, mapping and recording every tree in our municipality, developing biodiverse planting programs and building a resilient urban forest that can tolerate and continue to thrive in future climatic extremes.”

“We are excited to partner with the University of Melbourne in sharing this expertise to expand the network of urban forest experts working in government, industry and the community.”

Unlike a traditional workshop or conference, the program is expected to facilitate deep engagement around issues of urban forestry, planning and management. As University of Melbourne Associate Professor Stephen Lively said, “the urban forest is a complex and dynamic system, supported by many decision-makers, stakeholders and communities that sometimes have opposing views”.

It is wonderful to see leading academics, practitioners and policy experts coming together to share knowledge for the betterment of our built environment.

For more information on the Australian School of Urban Forestry, visit the official website.


U.S. study shows cyclists and pedestrians prefer more trees

greener US street cycling
Photomontage of Western Avenue in Allston, Massachusetts, with trees separating the cycling track from the street and curb
separating. Image courtesy of CC BY-ND via EcoWatch.

For decades, city streets in the U.S. have been engineered to keep road users and pedestrians safe. If city streets do include trees, they are usually planted in small sidewalk pits, where they have limited access to water. This means they live, on average, for just three to ten years. Until recently, the lack of trees in U.S. streets has been matched by a lack of cycling paths – exclusive, protected tracks for cyclists between the road and the sidewalk.

However, with cycling becoming increasingly popular, both for commuting and recreation, there is a push for city planners to integrate more tracks and trees into busy U.S. streets. A new study published in the Cities journal and highlighted in a podcast from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health explored whether pedestrians and cyclists in the Boston area enjoyed having trees in city streets. It also asked where they preferred trees to be placed, and whether they believed trees offered benefits.

In the study, 836 pedestrians and cyclists on five existing cycling tracks were shown photomontages. The images included proposed configurations, such as a row of trees separating the cycling track from the street, or trees in planters extending into the street between parked cars. Participants were asked how effectively they thought the trees:

  1. a) blocked perceptions of traffic
  2. b) lessened perceptions of pollution exposure; and
  3. c) made them feel cooler.

The findings showed that both pedestrians and cyclists liked having trees, preferably between the cycling track and the street. They strongly preferred the images that included trees, reporting that the trees blocked their view of traffic, lessened their feeling of being exposed to pollution, and made them feel cooler.

With many city leaders promoting cycling to reduce traffic and combat climate change, attention is turning to street design. Specifically, how and where to plant trees in relation to cycle tracks and sidewalks, and how to help trees flourish through urban design. There is a call for planning experts to design “climate street guidelines”, which would focus on delivering physiological and psychological benefits to all street users.


Investment in green infrastructure grows along with Scotland’s population

Scotland Green Infrastructure

Scotland’s population is growing at record rates, with most people residing in the central belt and high-density urban areas. To cater for the increase in city living, mixed-use properties have become more common as developers seek to maximise land. While the built environment boosts the economy and provides more living options, it comes at the cost of green spaces.

Urban greenery offers a range of benefits, including minimising air pollution, combating climate change, and enhancing mental health. Plus, it’s aesthetically pleasing and makes shared spaces more inviting. To ensure quality of life is maintained in urban areas, government and local authorities are proposing major investment to make Scotland’s cities greener than ever.

Two funds – the Green Infrastructure Fund and the Green Infrastructure Community Engagement Fund – have already provided a combined £15 million for rejuvenating urban areas with poor quality green space. These funds will be used to preserve and develop natural spaces in and around city areas, including ponds, reservoirs, sports grounds, parks, gardens and cycle lanes.

For example, the £2 million landscaping project at Countesswells Woods in Aberdeen will create sought after green space for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, and is a prime example of how thoughtful engineering can create sustainable living spaces for a whole community.

Thanks to these pioneering projects, more planners, architects, civil engineers and developers are beginning to realise the true potential of green infrastructure, especially when linked to a considerate stormwater management design. For decades, the approach to rainwater in urban areas of Scotland was to manage water away from buildings. However, as major cities continue to thrive, there’s a collective shift towards harnessing water as a resource to keep Scotland green.


U.S. non-profit generates private funding for urban trees

Washington Park Arboretum

Despite evidence that urban trees offer a diverse range of benefits – from improving air and water quality to reducing energy costs, improving human health, and even storing carbon – they are disappearing at an alarming rate from cities across the U.S.

A recent paper by two Forest Service scientists reports that 36 millions trees are lost each year in U.S. metropolitan areas. The reasons are largely financial, with many municipalities unable to find enough money to finance green projects. It’s been reported there’s a growing recognition of the inequity of tree-canopy distribution in U.S cities, with vast cover in wealthy areas and far fewer trees in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Add to this the difficulties posed by drought and increased temperatures due to climate change, and it’s clear to see why urban trees are suffering.

However, good news is on the horizon. To help find more funding for urban trees, some local governments, including Austin, Texas, and King County, Washington are running pilot projects with a non-profit organisation called City Forest Credits (CFC) in Seattle. The projects are generating funding for city tree canopies from private companies and individuals who wish to offset their carbon emissions. These companies and individuals buy credits for tree planting or preservation, contributing to greener urban environments.

The credits generated from these projects “are specifically catered to the urban environment and the unique challenges and possibilities there, so they differ from traditional carbon credits,” said Ian Leahy, a member of the CFC protocol board, and Director of Urban Forestry Programs at American Forests – a non-profit conservation group.

Zach Baumer, Climate Program Manager for the City of Austin, and fellow member of the CFC board, said, “I think the work is innovative and potentially game-changing. To harness the market to create environmental benefits in cities is a great thing.”

To be eligible for new carbon credits, city tree projects must follow official procedures for urban forests. These include rules covering specific factors like the location and duration of a project, and how the carbon will be quantified.


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