Cities are growing…fast! By 2050, up to 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Cities’ footprints are expanding at an alarming rate, putting natural habitats and human health at risk. Australian cities are no exception.
If you look out of your window, it may seem like there’s plenty of greenery, but many species of native flora and fauna have declined due to urban expansion, including the stunning Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Superb Fairy-wren and intriguing Short-beaked Echidna.
Australia's urban areas support over 30% of our threatened plant and animal species, but experts say that in these areas, local extinction of some species is expected1.
Urbanisation could be harming our families
More and more studies are proving that urbanisation is associated with increased levels of mental illness, including depression.
It can not only affect you, but sadly, our children too, with almost one in five of all young people aged 11 to 17 years experiencing high levels of psychological distress2.
That statistic is so heart breaking, and it’s a reason why The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is determined to keep our communities healthy and happy by greening our cities and protecting public green spaces through Australia's first Urban Forest Strategy we developed in partnership with Resilient Melbourne, experts, land managers and policy makers.
Together we can create a win-win situation for people and nature.
Scientists at TNC and elsewhere have found that one of the many benefits of urban forests is that they support good mental health and sense of wellbeing.
Access to public parks, creeks, wetlands and grasslands, and even street trees can produce a range of positive health outcomes including reduced stress and improved concentration and childhood development3.
Green spaces can also bring people together into shared spaces, increasing community and neighbourhood connection.
They’re also fantastic places for relaxation, play or just to feel connected with nature without travelling far.
The urban forest strategy named Living Melbourne has three main goals:
- Healthy people: Protect and increase access to nature, green space and canopy cover to reduce heat exposure and improve mental and physical wellbeing
- Abundant nature: Protect and extend habitat connectivity and corridors to enhance biodiversity
- Natural infrastructure: Protect and increase vegetation on public and private land, in order to cool urban areas, retain water in the soils, reduce flood risk and increase water and air quality.
The Nature Conservancy and Resilient Melbourne is working collaboratively with stakeholders and the private sector to support the implementation of Living Melbourne. This is the first strategy of its kind.
But Melbourne isn’t the only city in Australia facing these challenges, In future, we hope to replicate this strategy in other cities.
With smart planning, science-based solutions and strong partnerships, we believe that cities can become resilient, healthy and equitable for all.
Benefits of Urban Trees
The disastrous effects of heatwaves
With 84% of Australia's population living in cities, towns and suburbs, chances are you live in an urban environment. As our cities grow, we face many challenges: we’re losing species and their habitats, while people can suffer from excessive heat and a whole host of physical ailments.
Vulnerable people such as the sick, elderly, young children, and those who are socially & economically disadvantaged are most at risk. Cities are hit particularly hard, as the urban heat island effect—caused by heat-absorbing surfaces like asphalt and the loss of vegetation—can result in temperatures as much as 12°C higher than in less-developed areas nearby.
In Melbourne, deaths begin to rise when the mean daily temperature reaches 28°C. If city temperatures stayed even a little bit cooler during heatwaves, the number of deaths could be reduced4. Given the cooling power of trees—one of the most effective ways to reduce temperatures is to provide shade trees.
As the climate changes, the challenges of higher temperatures and paved cities will make our neighbourhoods less liveable.
How our urban forest strategy can help cities
Our research shows that nature can help curb the disastrous effects of heatwaves in urban environments, but to date, there has been no strategy—and little coordination—for bringing the power of nature back to cities. That’s why we’re leading the way by partnering with experts and communities to develop an Australia-first metropolitan-wide Urban Forest Strategy, in Melbourne, and with the hope to create the strategy to benefit other Australian cities.
Our research confirms that having more trees in the urban environment brings many benefits—during heatwaves and throughout the year. They include:
- Reducing surface temperatures through shading by up to 8°C in summer.
- Cooling surrounding temperatures – having mature trees on your street can reduce temperatures for up to 30 metres.
- Reducing air pollution, a problem that contributes to 7% of all deaths worldwide each year. A mature tree can remove more than 90kg of pollution a year.
- Providing green spaces for communities to enjoy and feel proud of.
- Supporting our mental health and wellbeing such as reduced stress and incidences of mental illness.
- Encouraging types of physical activity that can reduce people’s risk of developing chronic heart disease, diabetes, dementia and some cancers.
And of course, more nature means more habitat for wildlife such as parrots, owls, honeyeaters and insect-eating bats.
Where your money goes
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has been protecting the environment for around 70 years. From our historic work in land acquisition to cutting-edge research that influences global policy, TNC is constantly adapting to take on our planet’s biggest, most important challenges. Our vision is to create a world where people and nature can thrive. With your support, we can put the best conservation science into action right now.
In the last financial year, 84% of gifts have gone straight into conservation programs. We strive to ensure your vital donations make the largest impact for nature now and for the future of our planet.
1 A. Hamer and M. McDonnell, ‘The response of herpetofauna to urbanization: Inferring patterns of persistence from wildlife databases’, Austral Ecology. vol. 35, no. 5, August 2010, pp. 568–80; R. van der Ree and M.A. McCarthy, ‘Inferring persistence of indigenous mammals in response to urbanisation’, Animal Conservation, vol. 8, no. 3, August 2005, pp. 309–19
2 Commissioner for Children and Young People WA. (2015). Our Children Can’t Wait – Review of the implementation of recommendations of the 2011 Report of the Inquiry into the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in WA, Perth: Commissioner for Children and Young People.
3 Kessler, RD et al. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62: p. 593-602.
4 M. Loughnan et al., ‘The effects of summer temperature, age and socioeconomic circumstance on acute myocardial infarction admissions in Melbourne, Australia’, International Journal of Health Geographics, vol. 9, no. 41, August 2010.
Heatwave quote: Coates. L, (1996) An Overview of Fatalities from Some Natural Hazards in Australia [online]. In: Heathcote, Ronald Leslie (Editor); Cuttler, C (Editor); Koetz, J (Editor). Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction 1996: Conference Proceedings. Barton, A.C.T.: Institution of Engineers, Australia, 49-54. National conference publication (Institution of Engineers, Australia); no. 96/10.