Like many high-density cities, Melbourne is currently facing three main challenges: climate change, population growth and urban heating. The City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy aims to recover and expand the existing urban forest, which is critical for maintaining the health and liveability of the city.
Recent studies have shown that Melbourne will experience severe climate change over the next 20 years, including an increase in average temperatures, less rainfall and more frequent heatwaves and flooding. The city’s urban heat island effect is also expected to intensify.
The City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy’s main goal is to create a resilient, healthy and diverse urban forest to combat this climate change and ensure a sustainable future for the city.
One of the urban forest's key functions is to provide shade and cooling. Increased canopy coverage throughout the city will minimise the urban heat island effect and improve thermal comfort at street level for pedestrians.
Environmental benefits of the urban forest also include reducing stormwater flows and nutrient loads; reducing air pollution, air-borne particulates and greenhouse gas emissions; and improving biodiversity levels.
Urban forests also offer many benefits for the community by creating meeting points within the urban environment and allowing daily interaction with nature. Specific benefits include the creation of a local identity, encouraging outdoor activities, reconnecting children with nature, reducing sun exposure and heat related illnesses, and improving mental well-being.
Urban forests can bring about economic benefits for different sectors such as health, engineering, planning, sustainability, tourism and real estate industries. These economic benefits are very important, as most infrastructure and design decisions are based on economic cost-benefit analysis. The economic benefits include reducing energy costs, increasing property values, voiding costs of infrastructure damage and renewal, decreasing health costs, and encouraging tourism.
At present, Melbourne’s tree population is estimated at around 70,000 council-owned trees spread throughout parks, gardens, green spaces and tree-lined streets, all of which contribute to the city’s status as one of the world’s most liveable cities.
According to the City of Melbourne’s report, more than a decade of drought, severe water restrictions and periods of extreme heat, combined with an ageing tree stock, have put the trees under immense stress and many are now in a state of accelerated decline. As a result, 27 per cent of the current tree population could disappear over the next 10 years and 44 per cent in the next 20 years.
The City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy is trying to reverse these forecasts by providing a strong strategic framework for the evolution and endurance of Melbourne's urban forest. The strategy aims to adapt the city to the coming climate change and mitigate the urban heat island effect by bringing inner-city temperatures down, creating healthier ecosystems, developing a water-sensitive city, and engaging and involving the community.
The plan is ambitious and includes the following actions: increasing canopy cover from 22 per cent to 40 per cent by 2040, increasing forest diversity and improving existing vegetation health, soil moisture and biodiversity.
The City of Melbourne's Urban Forest Strategy is currently developing the plans for the urban forest in North and West Melbourne, Docklands and Kensington. Neighbours are invited to submit comments and fill in an online survey until the end of May 2014.