The urban forest
By Tim Martin - Batman's Hill
What is an important and probably one of the cheapest ways to increase urban amenity? Answer: Improving the urban forest – in particular street trees.
Street trees along with parks and gardens have a large number of benefits including being powerful pollutant filters, improving nearby residents’ life satisfaction, adding beauty, helping control water runoff, reducing the urban heat island effect and plenty more. To maximise those benefits the City of Melbourne has a stated goal of increasing public realm canopy cover from the present high-20s percentage to 40 per cent by 2040.
Docklands has a relatively young urban forest and still has some way to go before our forest reaches maturity. Some areas have been rather successful such as the quirky mini pine “forest” on the western side of Docklands Park (which wedding photographers seem to particularly love) while others have been less so; think Norfolk Island Pine trees on Harbour Esplanade which are constantly dying and being replaced. Why the council doesn’t just bite the bullet and replace all the struggling trees in one fell swoop is beyond me! In the latter list of strugglers, I would also include the Hills Weeping Fig trees which are planted everywhere (for example Merchant St). Docklands is a windy place and these trees are obviously too brittle for the environment as they constantly have large limbs ripped off in high winds, often necessitating replacement of the tree.
If we want the urban forest to be the best it can be, it’s important we take an interest. I remember shortly after moving to Docklands in 2013 attending a breakfast workshop with the City of Melbourne where it surveyed Docklands residents’ desires regarding the urban forest, to inform its planning. Some of the items on the wish list were a variety of trees with colourful autumn foliage as well as plantings of various heights and lots of flowering plants. While there have been plenty of plantings since, much of it has not been aligned with those desires. I really think avenues of trees that turned wonderful colours in autumn would be a real drawcard to the area.
One example that is aligned with those desires, however, is the northern end of Village St in Batman’s Hill. A few years ago the council spent what must have been a lot of money narrowing the street to one lane, paving it with cobblestones and planting one side of the street with Cimmaron Ash and the other side of the street with Japanese Zelkova. There are underplantings including patches of some sort of creeper (possibly a type of jasmine) which flowers in spring/early summer for a number of weeks creating an atmosphere of powerful scent which can be enjoyed by passing pedestrians. The street will be really magnificent when the trees mature. Elsewhere in Batman’s Hill, it will be interesting to see how the new park adjacent to the Mission to Seafarers building turns out. I’m led to understand it will be completed in 2023.
While not part of the public urban forest the street level and sky parks at Melbourne Quarter on Collins St still contribute the same benefits and are very pleasant places to spend time. Also, at the northern end of Village St on the Medibank building are a couple of spectacular vertical plantings which must be some of the largest in Melbourne at more than four storeys high. While their benefits are probably less than that of street plantings they are nevertheless very worthwhile and add to the amenity of the area.
It’s hard to talk about the urban forest without a brief mention of Melbourne’s beautiful but struggling London Plane trees. Fortunately, there are not too many of them in Batman’s Hill as they don’t do well in extended hot spells and I wonder how much longer many of them will last. I believe the council has plans to progressively replace them as they reach the (often premature) end of their lives. I especially wonder about those planted on the Collins St overpass. It is very obvious which of them are planted in pots (as opposed to in the open earth) as they suddenly reduce significantly in size as you move up the overpass. I suspect they will not last too long. I hope I’m wrong but time will tell.
Given the importance of our urban forest to the beauty and liveability of our beloved suburb, I would urge everyone to take responsibility as the council can’t be everywhere at once. If you see a plant in need of maintenance report it to City of Melbourne at melbourne.vic.gov.au/community/greening-the-city/tree-protection-management/Pages/tree-protection-and-management.aspx using the button near the bottom of the page. In my experience they are very responsive. I have lodged very many reports and they are generally acted on fairly promptly. Kudos to City of Melbourne for not rolling their eyes at yet another report from this bloody guy and filing it in the circular filing cabinet! On that note, until next time, please notice, enjoy and appreciate the greenery as you traverse our suburb •