Green Visions: Nature as infrastructure

A number of recent industry campaigns and major policy documents from both state and local government levels promote nature’s critical role in supporting economic prosperity, health and wellbeing.

Although much has been written about a green infrastructure design-led approach for urban environments, it was not until recently that major policy documents have included measures that promote nature as a key driver for the built environment. On both state and local government levels, policy and planning directives increasingly reflect the acceptance of nature-as-infrastructure’s critical role in underpinning economic prosperity, health and wellbeing.

The New South Wales Government’s A Plan for Growing Sydney promotes the delivery of the Sydney Green Grid project, a framework to create an interconnected network of open space throughout metropolitan Sydney. The City of Melbourne’s multi-million-dollar Urban Forest Strategy aims to almost double the canopy cover in the city by 2040 and Horticulture Innovation Australia’s 202020 Vision aims to create 20 percent more green space across the country’s urban areas by 2020.

The Sydney Green Grid proposes a network of high-quality open spaces that will improve and maximize quality of life and wellbeing in metropolitan Sydney.

The Sydney Green Grid proposes a network of high-quality open spaces that will improve and maximize quality of life and wellbeing in metropolitan Sydney.

Image: NSW Government Architect’s Office

The Sydney Green Grid project

Sydney’s population is forecast to increase 80 percent by 2054, with an additional three million people living and working in metropolitan Sydney. As density increases, the key question is: how can we shape the built environment so as to ensure that Sydney remains one of the world’s most distinctive and liveable cities?

In acknowledging green space as a key hallmark of liveability, A Plan for Growing Sydney promotes the creation of a network of high-quality green spaces that connect town centres, public transport networks, the harbour, rivers and major employment and residential areas – the Sydney Green Grid.

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A vital contribution to the sustainable development of the city, the Green Grid formulates a framework for the enhancement and integration of open space throughout metropolitan Sydney. It proposes a network of high-quality open spaces, to improve and maximize quality of life and wellbeing. This network includes the full range of open spaces: from national, regional and local parks, through the harbour, wetlands, rivers, beaches and creeks to playgrounds, playing fields, golf courses and cemeteries. Interconnected linkages are fostered within the wider public realm through enhancing creek corridors, transport routes, footpaths and cycleways.

The Sydney Green Grid is the mechanism that turns policy into action to create greener, cleaner, healthier, socially cohesive and biodiverse urban environments within a connected city ecosystem for people and wildlife. It plays a key role in building in resilience measures against climate change through the aforementioned, plus through the management of stormwater, flood risk and water quality. Together, these enhance our ability to adapt to, and mitigate the impacts of heat, noise and air pollution.

The Sydney Green Grid provides the context for development, building the community’s capacity to accept change by ensuring that green infrastructure and open space are integral to Sydney’s future.

Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy.

Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy.

Image: City of Melbourne

The City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy

Melbourne’s urban forest is a critical element of the city’s fabric, liveability and cultural heritage. However, more than a decade of drought, combined with the impact of severe water restrictions, has left the city’s urban forest in a state of unprecedented decline, with an estimated loss of thirty thousand trees, or 44 percent of the tree population, over the next twenty years.

Developed in 2012, the City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy establishes a strategic framework to create a sylvan legacy for current and future generations, achieved by planting a forest that is diverse, robust and resilient in the face of climate change, urban densification and the compounding effects of urban heat islands.

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The Urban Forest Strategy and Urban Forest Precinct Plans provide exemplars of how to transform policy into practice, creating a distinctive and liveable city while fostering and strengthening community links to place. These have given rise to a prescient program based on continual citizen involvement that has generated unprecedented support through the development of plans and programs that empower the community to make decisions about their own streets. This deepens a sense of ownership and pride of place. Ongoing connection through communication is encouraged – each of the sixty thousand trees in the City of Melbourne has an ID number linked to an online map that allows you to email the tree and receive a reply (which is actually written by a council staff member).

The strategy marks a transformational change in the way the urban forest is considered and managed in the city. The city council aims to lift publicly owned tree cover from 22 percent to 40 percent by 2040, requiring three thousand trees per annum to meet these targets. By demonstrating the essential social, economic and environmental services that trees provide, the strategy clearly articulates the benefits that nature can deliver in creating liveable, sustainable cities.

“Where are all the trees?” is a recent report from the 202020 Vision analysing tree canopy cover in Australia’s most urban and dense local government areas.

“Where are all the trees?” is a recent report from the 202020 Vision analysing tree canopy cover in Australia’s most urban and dense local government areas.

The national 202020 Vision campaign

The 202020 Vision campaign is a collaborative plan for a 20 percent increase in Australia’s urban green space by the year 2020. To achieve this, the campaign brings together industry, government and individuals by providing them with the knowledge, resources and networks necessary to meet this shared goal.

Started in 2013 by Nursery and Garden Industry Australia and Horticulture Innovation Australia (at the time known as Horticulture Australia Limited), 202020 Vision has grown to include over two hundred and fifty partner organizations and two-thousand-plus individuals participating in one hundred and fifty (and growing) listed projects throughout Australia. The roadmap shaped by the campaign team involves six steps: create a network, promote the benefits, identify the issues, unearth the solutions, write the pathways and prove that it is possible.

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In order to substantiate claims and evaluate the program’s success, the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology, Sydney, used satellite imagery to map tree canopy, and has analysed 139 local government areas lying within Australia’s most densely populated urban areas. The report “Benchmarking Australia’s Urban Tree Canopy” provides a starting point for councils, developers and decision-makers to better understand the existing tree canopy in their local areas, as well as guidance on how to measure it.

What is inspiring to see is how state, local and non-government organizations within Australia are acknowledging the role of green infrastructure in addressing the challenges of the twenty-first century. The benefits apply to business, landowners, authorities, retailers, city dwellers, tourists and developers. Nature as infrastructure is proving to be more cost effective, more resilient and eminently capable of providing a range of benefits – health and wellbeing, productivity, community connection, local commerce, cooler cities, better water management and cleaner air.



Published online: 29 Oct 2015
Words: Barbara Schaffer
Images: City of Melbourne, Hamilton Lund, Destination NSW, NSW Government Architect’s Office


Landscape Architecture Australia, May 2015

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