Day one of a long weekend


Don’t you love Google Earth? This is a picture of a street in Mayfield where the residents petitioned council to remove a row of mature camphor laurels. I’ve posted a number of times about it because I still can’t get over people wanting to get rid of such beautiful trees – ‘Not the shame file 2, Just a sad story’,  ‘Arnold Street choice of replacement trees’ and  ‘An update on street trees’ . I’ve also put some photos of the ringbarked trees on Photobucket  and the Herald have done stories on it, the most recent one here.

The Google Earth picture is from 2006 and shows how fantastic these trees were. The next photo is of the street today: a suburbanite’s dream: all grass and no pesky trees to worry about.

The crime of the camphor laurels was to be responsible for one insurance claim for damage to a resident’s property. I’d been meaning to go back and have another look at the street but kept being distracted. I was reminded of the street today when a friend sent me a link to the story in the Herald detailing the cost of tree damage to infrastructure and the resulting insurance claims against our council over a five-year period.

‘NEWCASTLE ratepayers paid more than $85,000 in the past five years for tree-related property damage in Cooks Hill, while the city’s insurer paid about $50,000.The cost has emerged as Newcastle City Council considers how to manage 14 ageing figs in Laman Street.

A council memo said the organisation’s insurance policy had a $12,500 excess. Two tree-related claims, lodged between 2005 and 2010, cost the council $25,000, while the insurer paid the remaining $50,395.88. City Hall paid other claims of less than $12,500 for building damage, driveways and landscaping, sewer blockages and replacements, stormwater blockages and utilities.’

 Councillor Buman said ‘people were upset that trees constantly damaged their houses’  but the article pointed out that  the council’s bill was less than expected. Councillor Buman said the amount was close to the $70,000 spent recently on a workshop about the Laman Street figs.

It’s interesting spin to start joining talk of the figs in Laman Street with infrastructure damage – when you’re having trouble convincing the punters that the trees are dangerous, try another tack and insert a subliminal message.

The comment I left on the Herald’s site was:

‘It’s easy to look at the costs of trees in our city and think we are going to go broke from infrastructure damage claims but bean counters need to remember their enormous benefits as well – which more than outweigh their costs. Trees pay for themselves many times over. The average street tree returns $90 000 in direct benefits to residents and the trees in Cooks Hill are longer-living and more beautiful than the average street tree so our gain from them is greater.

Trees increase real estate values, they remove the first third of stormwater, they prolong bitumen life, they reduce air temperature by up to 8 degrees, they reduce crime and domestic violence, they make streets more walkable, they make distances feel shorter, they slow traffic, they make children concentrate, they lower blood pressure – etc etc. All of this is based on research: it’s not just treehugging twaddle. Mr Buman is keen to have a responsible and sustainable budget: I’m sure these factors on the plus side of the balance sheet would be important for him.’

I would be over the moon if the community design workshop had spent $70000 on discussing the Laman Street figs but unfortunately the Lord Mayor suggested (and councillors agreed) to include Civic Park. So much more emphasis was placed on the park than the trees. Waste of time.

The Sydney consultants who ran the workshop a) didn’t know how to solve the problem of community anger about the planned removal of the trees and b) as landscape architects want to design New Stuff, not concentrate on preserving Old Stuff (my words obviously, not theirs). Council’s experts at the charette wouldn’t look at any other options other than getting rid of the trees. Civic Park of course has been redesigned a number of times and all that happens is that it loses more trees.

The aerial shot from ?the 1950s was a find on the wall of a vacuum cleaner shop in Mayfield today. The owner let me  photograph it and said others before me have asked the same thing. Look how few trees there were back then. If you double-click on the picture it will enlarge, like all the photos in this blog. The trees in the middle of the shot are figs that are still in a park in Mayfield – a few have been butchered  pruned to accommodate overhead wires but most still look beautiful.

I went to Braye Park to try to get a similar picture of the city – as an ‘after’ shot – but there are so many trees in Newcastle these days that it’s unrecognisable as the same place. (There’s a wonderful kids’ playground at Braye Park which I note was a Newcastle City Council and Transition Towns project. The Transition Town Newcastle website is terrific. And tangentially, one of the disappointments at the design workshop on Laman St/Civic Park was the antithesis felt by people of a certain age towards play areas for children. I hope this was just towards the look of the play equipment  but I suspect it was more than that.)

And  I was grateful to a friend for a link to a radio story about our council closing Laman Street on a recent windy day to keep us irritated  safe. It was a coincidence to see that someone called Caitlin – just like me – had posted a comment on the site . That Caitlin – perhaps someone with the same name who works for council? – uses smiley faces and capitals and words like ‘boohoo’ and ‘yay’. It’s not this little black duck’s style. If I can’t use 1000 words to say something that others could say in 100 then you’ll know I’m in need of a Bex and a Good Lie Down. Home



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