Saving Our Trees website

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Until about two years ago I had no idea there was such a thing as the ‘urban forest’This is the sum of all the trees and greenery on public and private land in a town or city and puts a value on the overall benefit that these have for communities and the environment. It’s one of those things that’s seemingly made real and important by being given a name even though it’s existed forever.

When I first heard about the urban forest I’d been having a whine about the loss of three mature Hill’s figs in Ravenshaw Street in Newcastle to make way for a new apartment block/shopping centre.

 

   

40-year-old fig felled by smoko

Author: By TESS CAMPBELL
Date: 30/05/2008
          Publication: Newcastle Herald
Section: News
Page: 18
YESTERDAY’S felling of a 40-year-old fig tree to make way for a $55 million Newcastle West development was a reality check for nearby Ravenshaw Street residents.For the first time many glimpsed the impacts the large-scale retail, cinema and residential complex, set for the former AGL gasworks next to Marketown shopping centre, would have on them.The tree was one of three on Ravenshaw and Steele streets sanctioned for removal in 2006 when Newcastle City Council approved the controversial development which includes a two-storey retail centre and two residential towers of six and nine storeys.A council spokeswoman said the approval required the developer to replace the trees at his own cost.Ravenshaw resident Garth Quick said he feared the developer, Gennie Holdings, which owns Marketown, planned to replace the trees with rooftop shrubbery.”Nowhere on their plans, other than the rooftop, is there any mention of trees,” Mr Quick said.”A fig like that is irreplaceable and council should be held accountable for ever letting it happen,” he said.Mr Quick wants the site’s entrance switched to Steele Street and called for a revision of the council’s traffic impact study from June 2007, believing the council grossly underestimated traffic.He said many residents bid emotional farewells to the fig on Wednesday night.Cutting started at 7am yesterday, with the tree reduced to a stump by 10.30am.’

One of the friends I whined to about the loss of the trees was working for Newcastle City Council and was very proud of the fact that the organisation had developed an ‘Urban Forest Policy’, giving this as an example of how important trees were to council. This wasn’t at all obvious to me.

Any organisation that saw those huge beautiful healthy-looking trees as expendable, it seemed to me at the time, couldn’t possibly value street trees and must have viewed the way the community feel about trees with complete disdain.

Sadly there was presumably little that residents could do at the time: there were objections to many things about the Ravenshaw Street development, including the loss of the fig trees and a brushbox. An arborist’s report done for the developer said the trees were unhealthy:

‘A submitted Arborist’s Report… concludes that only one of the existing Fig trees in Ravenshaw Street is in good condition, with the other three trees in a fair to poor state. In this regard, the Arborist’s Report states:

‘The street trees have already been pruned repeatedly for vehicular access along the street and over the site and their roots have been pruned on many occasions due to disruption of services and infrastructure, such as road pavement and footpaths. The trees will require further pruning to clear them from the building to provide a safe work environment further diminishing their form.’

Council’s Arborist, following an inspection of the street trees in Ravenshaw Street and Steel Street, has recommended that all of the trees across the respective street frontages be removed and be replaced by seven new advanced street trees. The Council’s Arborist further recommend that the existing healthy Fig tree within the Ravenshaw Street footpath, fronting the McDonald’s site, be protected during the site construction works. ‘

From Development Applications Committee Meeting Item 60 Appendix A ; 11 July 2006

 [in reference to DA 05/1266 – 23 Steel Street Newcastle West]  

I remember the shock I felt on my way to work one day to see the trees being felled and ground to nothing.

This led to me looking up tree preservation on good old Google and I came upon a fantastic Sydney website called Saving our trees http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com and some of the things that caught my eye were a successful campaign to save some healthy fig trees in a park and well-founded gripes about Energy Australia and their sad pruning of mature trees.

The site is a mine of information: one of my favourite pages is the  100 tree facts which is a great resource if you’re interested in the social benefits of trees as well as what they do for the environment. There are summaries of tree news from round the world and the photos are fantastic. ‘Report from the Gallery’ about the proceedings of Marrickville Council meetings is always worth a read. It also makes one realise how fortunate we are in Newcastle to have so many mature street trees. They seem to have so few in the inner west of Sydney.

One very upsetting piece of information I read on the website was a quote from one of  the Marrickville Councillors in which he claimed something I had no idea about – The Council of the City of Sydney has a surplus of half a billion dollars a year.

Can you believe that? And here we are, struggling but doing OK – at least our budget in Newcastle is said to be sustainable: many are not. 

When I read last year that our council had planned to remove the trees from Laman Street (they may say ‘replace’ but we’re still waiting for suggestions about species – arborists seem to hate fig trees these days – and about whether they’ll put trees down both sides of the street – they’re vaguely threatening not to even though residents want a canopy like we have now) I emailed Jacqueline who runs the site and asked for her advice.

She knew Laman Street (so many people do) and couldn’t believe this was being considered. I think lots of councils look to the ways Newcastle City Council accomplishes things – we found that at the charette when the arborist experts agreed that how we dealt with Laman Street would be a precedent for how other councils deal with their mature trees – and certainly Marrickville use us as an example at times.

It’s sobering to read of what’s happening elsewhere. It was through Savingourtrees that I realised how good twitter is as a source of information. A heap of environmentalists, urban designers and arborists tweet (I still feel like an eejit using that expression) and they mention links to so many interesting articles.

Who knew there were 1500 types of native Australian bee or that most bees are solitary or that there were 700-900 types of eucalypt or 250 types of ladybird? Who knew Sydney’s ecological footprint was half of NSW? Who knew two Canadian provinces were ‘cosmetic-pesticide-free’? Who knew there was cosmetic pesticide?

I even found through twitter a town in Wisconsin that has something like the issue we in Newcastle have with our CBD. We don’t really have one any more since ours atrophied under the combined effects of the earthquake, the relocation of one of our major employers, the hospital, away from the CBD, combined with the growth of three enormous suburban shopping centres.The city in Wisconsin (whose name escapes me) never had one, apparently due to the way the town developed over time. It’s interesting to read of the ways they’re trying to deal with it.

I always look forward to the savingourtrees posts and wish I had the energy/time to do posts about the council meetings in Newcastle.

Lastly, huge congratulations to Newcastle City Council for removing two of the three containers from the Laman Street/Darby Street corner and for hiding the garbage bins at the side of the Town Hall. (See ‘Does this look like the work of a council committed to visionary park design?’)The Town Hall looks lovely and the corner of the park looks so much nicer. Only one container to go. And today I saw some beautifully cared for trees in Hamilton, Islington  and Newcastle West.

As usual the Memorial Grove was looking beautiful today – fantastic for Anzac Day. The trees looked lovely in the rain. I felt sorry for the people who were marching – they were all soaked. There seemed to be as many onlookers as in other years so it didn’t look as though the wet weather kept people away. As usual it was all very moving. Civic Park’s a great place for it to finish.    Home

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