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Opinion

The importance of greenery amid coronavirus blues

Opinion

The numbers of people spending pandemic downtime outside is a reminder of the importance of green open space for the community and environment. Planting is a true shovel-ready project deserving of stimulus spending, argues Daniel Bennett.

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2020 is the year of the crisis. Even before the year broke, we were in the midst of a national bushfire crisis, and now we have this world-shaping health crisis impacting the very fundamentals of our way of life.

Cue the Marshall Government’s $1bn in stimulus for South Australia. It is an opportunity, and kudos to the Premier and his government in their handling of the COVID-19 crisis to date. The stimulus is welcome, and I fully support it.

However, as Craig Wilkins said in InDaily this week, we cannot waste the opportunity.

Due diligence and careful planning should not be replaced with: “What have we got to deliver, and quickly?”

We should ensure any project accelerated for delivery adds value to society in more ways that just the pay of workers employed to deliver them.

At the very least, the ‘shovel ready’ projects being considered for immediate delivery must include tree planting and greening outcomes, as part of the potential avalanche of local road upgrades about to be undertaken.

I’m sure anyone in Adelaide’s parks and open spaces recently has noticed an explosion of dog walking, running, bike riding and families exercising (this is great to see and let’s hope these habits remain well after the self-isolation).

Integrating tree planting and greening and capturing some additional ‘shovel ready’ park improvement projects will result in more places and spaces for these activities, which will last longer than our self-isolation. It will also deliver healthier and more active suburbs, addressing a long increase in our nation’s obesity levels.

The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects has for many years advocated within all levels of government, pragmatically and practically, on solutions to create cooler suburbs and greener outcomes.

Indeed, we have partnered with a number of State Government departments in preparing a cross government policy aimed at addressing hotter suburbs and the impacts of a changing climate.

In particular, AILA worked with the State Government as part of the Healthy Parks Healthy People SA (HPHP SA) initiative, a co-designed, co-managed Public Health Partnership Authority initiative between the South Australian Department for Health and Wellbeing (DHW) and Department for Environment and Water (DEW).

Healthy Parks Healthy People SA developed a document Creating Greener Places for Healthy and Sustainable Communities: Ideas for Quality Green Public Space in South Australia (PDF 7MB) to explore how we can all work together to enhance our green spaces.

Using the principles in these strategies for these stimulus projects, or a proportion of them, will not only achieve these outcomes in a warming climate, it will create and sustain jobs and add significant value to our city, suburbs and regions.

So I see this is an opportunity to improve the opportunities provided by the Government’s stimulus package by adding value, and not necessarily costs, to these projects.

South Australia has existing targets in place for increasing our tree canopy cover. If just one third of the stimulus projects included some greening targets we are effectively reaching those targets far sooner than we would have – and these provide immediate benefits (extra work and employment) and long term benefits (cooling our cities, shadier streets and parks, and health and well-being).

Perhaps a solution is to provide local government with immediate funding opportunities to upgrade parks, streets and open spaces now, with rapid delivery of greening and planting initiatives, as we come into the cooler seasons and as record numbers of people are using them.

As president of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects in South Australia and past president of the national body representing over 3,000 registered landscape architects across Australia in private practice, state and local government, I implore governments at all levels to add value to projects and work with us to make them better.

With the current restrictions in place, we have (a little) time to plan and design these outcomes, not just direct millions of dollars to projects which only replace ‘like for like’, as opposed to ‘like for better’ – and achieve even better, healthier and nicer suburbs.

This improved approach will not only generate massive benefit to our parks, open spaces and environment, but the communities who are using them.

Daniel Bennett is a registered landscape architect with over 20 years’ experience, working in private and public practice across Australia.

He is a past national president and current chair, National Advocacy Committee and current South Australian chapter president for the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects.

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