“Nature strip Enhancement” refers to public landscaping and urban forestry projects that create mutually beneficial relationships between city dwellers and their environments.
It helps combat air and noise pollution, soaks up rainwater that may otherwise create flooding, creates a habitat for local wildlife, and has been shown to lift morale in the people who see it, calming traffic and lessening urban crime.
In the current climate emergency urban greening can also provide a means of carbon storage by use of trees, shrubs and plants and gardening practices that encourage the storage of carbon in the earth.
An easy place to start would be for Council to develop guidelines for planting out nature strips and then undertake the planting of all available nature strips in Colac and other small towns. There is a dearth of tree plantings on most Colac streets save for some streets north of the highway which represent the first settled residential areas of Colac.
In Melbourne, for example, more than a third of all public green space is nature strips.
Nature strips are Council owned land located between the constructed road and private property (that is, the street verge). Nature strips contribute significantly to the streetscape and visual amenity of local neighbourhoods. Realestate agents agree that a good streetscape can add 30 per cent to the price of a property.
A second remarkable thing is that the nature strip is public land that private citizens are required by law to maintain. Councils manage the trees, but we residents mow the lawn or otherwise take care of the nature strip.
The rules on nature strips vary from council to council. Some councils don’t allow any plantings. Others restrict plantings by height or allow only plants indigenous to the local area. Council needs to review its policies on dealing with nature strips having as a priority the need the address the current climate emergency that is, how best to use our nature strips to store carbon and reduce the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Most Canberrans are now free to grow plants on nature strips outside their homes. New guidelines were quietly put in place allowing people to use the nature strip outside their home to plant ground covers, food plants, native grasses and shrubs up to 50cm in height.
Bendigo’s Council has waived a permit fee for plants on nature strips in a move that has been branded a victory for the climate. People will still need to follow guidelines about nature strips and make sure their trees do not cause safety issues.
They will also still need the council’s permission to plant anything other than lawn grass on their nature strips.
There is great scope for planting of trees on Colac’s nature strips. This activity presents Council with a highly visible and easily achievable project that can act as a low tech example of Council addressing climate change.
We did a quick audit of part of the “gateway” roads leading into Colac.
1- The Colac Lavers Hill Rd (Gravesend St) between Hearn and Airey Streets: There are 65 properties (this area encompasses the cemetery) . Of the 65 only 16 had a tree planted on the nature strip, 36 had an available space for one tree and 13 had space for at least 2 trees. In all a total of 62 trees could be planted (this does not include along the cemetery nature strip)
2- Murray St west of Colac between Armstrong St and Cants Rd.: The southern side of this part of the highway is planted with a number of large and mature trees but the north side more sparsely planted. Overall on both sides of the highway 40 properties had one tree and 3 properties had 2 trees. Twenty (20) properties had a space for a tree.
3- Murray St east of Colac between Barongarook Creek and Bruce St.: Here 16 properties had 1 tree, 2 had 2 trees but there were 30 that had no tree planted outside the property. Added to this along the nature strip in front of the primary school there were 2 trees and 5 spaces for more trees and in front of Barongarook Gardens there was 1 tree and 7 spaces. So overall at total of 42 trees could be planted.
There are a large number of streets in Colac with hardly any tree plantings on nature strips. There is enormous scope for Council in association with residents to make a difference in Colac’s overall amenity and citizen wellbeing.
Council would provide guidance and assistance to householders in taking care of the trees and Council, by directing the project, would ensure that tree species were suitable for the area and space and will not impinge on power or phone lines and not cause damage to footpaths or underlying infrastructure and not be a traffic sight hazard.
Further Council could adopt the approach of Canberra, Bendingo and other areas in promoting the planting-out of nature strips by residents.
If Council was to encourage this activity we might achieve even more street greening with little cost. Such encouragement would also free many residents of their sense of frustration at being required to maintain the nature strip but forbidden to do anything more than mow.
This would also provide an opportunity for the community to be engaged in strategic planning and decision making through a community development approach.
There is also scope to engage and/or develop a social enterprise to carry out works under Council staff directions and resident input. Urban Greening will align with these Council plans; Colac 2050 Citizen Jury Report (2020), Environment Strategy 2010-2018, 2013 Roadmap for a Carbon Neutral Plan, Colac Otway Rural Living Strategy 2011, Environment Action Plan 2013-2015, Climate Change Adaptation Plan 2017- 2027, 2017-2021 Council Strategic Plan.