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07 Sep 2017

Urban forests in a concrete jungle

For a seventh consecutive year Melbourne has been named the world’s most liveable city by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) - but how liveable are our fast growing high density precincts?

Skipping over the vexed issue of what precisely the EUI measures when assessing “liveability”, it is interesting that its assessment is based on what is “most and least challenging” – meaning that the EUI finds Melbourne to be the least challenging city in which to live, rather than the “best” place per se.

In contrast, one of the traditional hallmarks of a great city was its greenery – tree-lined streets and accessible parkland. Recently this green-city perspective has been captured by Jill Jonnes in her book Urban Forests wherein she relates stories about the founding mothers and fathers of American urban forestry. From the time of Jefferson to the present day, she writes of presidents, plant explorers, visionaries, citizen activists and scientists, whose arboreal passions have shaped and ornamented their nation’s cities.

Moving to modern day Melbourne, trees are again being recognised as positive attributes of a great city. A key difference now is that they are viewed increasingly pragmatically. Described in terms of “green infrastructure”, their utilitarian benefits are believed manifold – with mature trees cleaning air, reducing flood risk, lowering the impact of vehicular noise, as well as (more subjectively) decreasing stress and boosting happiness. Furthermore, together these aspects are believed to positively impact property values – a case of money growing off trees!

However, arguably the greatest contribution of green infrastructure for Melburnians is in terms of heat reduction. By actively cooling the urban landscape, green infrastructure aids in reducing energy usage and carbon dioxide emissions, while also decreasing the risk of heat stress or heatstroke. As colourfully described by Melbourne University researchers, “extreme heat is a slow-motion disaster”, and they advocate for changing how we respond to heat from viewing it as a specific emergency to seeing it as an ongoing stress.

So where does this leave our high-density precincts, which typically still feature expanses of heat retaining concrete and sparse or waning vegetation?

Enter the Urban Forest Fund – this is a new program hosted by the City of Melbourne, which aims to accelerate greening across the city. The Urban Forest Fund offers matched financial support to new greening projects, such as green spaces, tree planting, vertical greening or green roofs.

But wait, there’s more!

RMIT, in partnership with Lendlease, is conducting a project that explores the ongoing development of Victoria Harbour and the wider Docklands precinct.

Called “The Exchange: Prototyping Community Engagement in Victoria Harbour”, it is a 12-month project located in the Knowledge Market near the Docklands Library.

Led by RMIT academics, Dr Charles Anderson and Dr Michaela Prescott, this project includes workshops, forums, exhibitions and community events through which it will examine the liveability of our 21st century urban environment. And it will do so under the themes of:

  • Carbon neutral futures;
  • Social diversity;
  • Digitally enabled infrastructures; and
  • Urban memory and imagination.

According to Dr Anderson, the project aims to be a conduit for exchanging information on the long-term liveability of our cities. So, if you are interested in what might make our high-density precincts “more liveable”, keep an eye on the happenings at the Knowledge Market!

If you would like links to the research or organisations mentioned, please visit and like SkyPad Living on Facebook.

Janette Corcoran

Apartment Living Expert

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