Green spaces in urban areas are in rapid decline despite a shift towards sustainable development.
Hatch RobertsDay urban designer, Peter Ciemitis, said green spaces have declined in 69 per cent of urban areas precipitating dangerous temperature increases.
He said current environmental planning and engineering standards have unintentionally resulted in a dangerous reduction in urban tree canopies and green spaces.
“Developers and planners need to prioritise urban tree canopies in their projects to increase the livability of Australia’s cities and reduce the urban heat island effect,” he said.
“There is a growing urgency to mitigate the urban heat island effect, and tree canopies are a vital component to ensure we can reduce temperatures across the country.
“The Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, for example, sadly resulted in 173 deaths, however many are unaware that 374 deaths occurred due to heat during that same week.”
Ciemitis said these deaths were clustered in Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs where there are fewer, or no trees at all. Similarly, suburbs in Sydney’s west grow hotter every year, with some areas reporting temperatures above 50 degrees.
“We will begin to see a knock-on effect throughout Australia if we do not act quickly to reduce heat in communities,” he warned.
“Most modern land development practices favour earthworks, whereby trees and other natural plantation are cleared away to level the land for development.
“However, planning and design should start with identification of the best trees for retention, then ensure these govern the rest of the design process.”
Ciemitis said localcouncil policy prescribes minimum distances that street trees can be planted from drainage pits, light standards, crossovers and street corners.
However, these rules can reduce the number of trees that developers may have otherwise planned to establish.
“Developers could communicate with local councils to determine ways to vary standards to prioritise tree retention,” he said.
“By working with councils quicky and early in a project, developers can avoid excessive and unnecessary tree removal that would occur if they simply complied with policy.”
With developers favouring apartments over single-occupancy homes, the average home lot size has declined by 16 per cent since 2009, according to the Housing Industry Association.
Shrinking backyards require an increase in the number of ‘community backyards,’ in the form of high-quality community green spaces and neighbourhood parks.
Ciemitis said neighbourhood parks tend be ‘cookie cutter’ spaces lacking a sense of destination, walking and cycling tracks, playgrounds and a body of water.
He said greater emphasis should be placed on creating more small, green parks within walking distance to residential properties, rather than a handful of large open spaces for each suburb.
 Greenlife Industry Australia, 2020 https://www.greenerspacesbetterplaces.com.au/media/163315/where-will-all-the-trees-be-benchmarking-report-2020.pdf