Innovation roundup: parks, recreation and culture

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Innovation roundup: parks, recreation and culture

Local governments are critical for policies promoting parks and culture, with 55 per cent of Australian councils having some form of cultural plan in 2012 compared to just 19 per cent in 1999.

Sutherland Shire (NSW) turned revenue raised from environmental offences into a successful community tree-planting program, revitalising the public spaces in the region. While having a unique tree canopy that is highly valued by local residents, its well-being was threatened by the impact of larger houses, smaller lot sizes and higher density development. This has seen a decline in remnant bushland and Indigenous trees, and many trees were reaching the end of their natural lifespan. 

Sutherland Shire Council, in recognising the need to retain the character of the established canopy, encouraged a shift from private planting to public spaces planting. With planting along road reserves and in parks had become an increasingly expensive process (for example, protective cages necessary for plant survival meant a quadrupling in the cost of tree planting along road reserves). In response, Council’s Environment and Building Compliance team came up with the idea of creating community ownership of the trees. 

The ‘Greenstreets’ program was fully funded with revenue raised from fines for environmental offences, such as illegal tree removal. The program was also assisted by partnerships with the ‘Green Teams’ from Como West and Jannali primary schools. They planted trees along a two-kilometre stretch of road between the two schools with each tree tagged with a message from and the name of the child who planted the tree. The project delivered a tree survival rate of 92 per cent, significantly higher than that of trees planted by Council without community involvement. Positive community feedback led to planning for similar ‘Greenstreets’ projects in other areas. One proposal involved engagement from schools, community groups and local businesses to plan trees alongside a main arterial road that links several suburbs over approximately seven kilometres.

The City of Greater Geelong’s Green Your Street is a free to be involved program that draws upon community involvement and interest in order to improve local streets and neighbourhoods through the planting of trees on nature strips. Initiated by the Community Development Team with support from Parks and Services staff, residents were asked if they would like one or two street trees on their nature strip, with a choice between ornamental pear, crepe myrtle or native Kanooka trees. The cost of establishing new trees is high because ongoing watering is more expensive than the initial cost of supplying young plants, To overcome this, Green Your Street involved residents in watering and care for the trees in their early growth stages. City of Greater Geelong staff or contractors planted the trees and provided long-term maintenance, including pruning, once established. 

Banyule City Council (Melbourne) through its $42 million WaterMarc leisure and aquatic facility took centre stage of attempts to address the decade-long regeneration of the Greensborough precinct. The council consulted widely with the community from 2002 including a community consultative committee established in 2004 to ensure that the views of all stakeholders continued to be heard. This involved a survey of more than 40,000 users of aquatic facilities in Melbourne’s northern region. 

The facility includes the largest indoor waterslide in the southern hemisphere; a 50 metre competition pool; an aqua-play areas for young children with interactive, water, light and sound features; a state-of-the art-gymnasium, a dedicated spin room; and a hydro-therapy, spa and sauna/steam room. It also offers flexible workshop/program rooms for conferences and meetings with Wi-Fi access. 

In environmental terms, the facility incorporates solar evacuated hot water tubes; energy efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; energy efficient T5 fluorescent and metal halide lighting; sensor-controlled showers and a grey water system for the toilets; a natural gas-fired cogeneration plant; and a 200,000 litre rainwater storage tank.

Attention was also given to Australia’s major capital city municipalities with the Bicycle Network’s 2012 Bicycle Expenditure Index (BiXE). This showed how the council had become a national leader amongst smaller cities in regards to catering for the bike-commuting boom. The project, in its seventh year, measures each council’s budget against a $5 per head threshold for spending on lanes, paths, signs and other facilities for bike riders. 

The 2012 findings revealed that 46 per cent of councils are meeting the minimum threshold figure with Melbourne at $50 per head, Sydney $89, Adelaide $98, Brisbane $27, and Perth $30. In contrast, Hobart was just 99 cents and only three of 17 NSW councils had reached the threshold.

Chris Lewis is Visiting Fellow at ANZSOG Institute for Governance.

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