When I see a denuded house block, a new planning subdivision, a city with buildings but no greenery, I don’t see ‘progress’. I don’t feel good. I feel alienated, cold, repelled. Yet, seeing the same house block or subdivision two years, later with rapidly growing green trees softening the appearance of the new building or the subdivision, breaking up the rigid verticals of the constructed houses, or a similar city with trees along the footpaths, I have a completely different feeling. I feel softer, warmer, welcomed, relaxed, even happy.
It has taken me quite a while to realise the value which trees and greenery give to an area. Luckily, when I turn from the local main street into my little home area on to a street bordered by towering plane trees, I feel I am entering a special area, going through an invisible gate, into a welcoming community, separated from the ‘world’ that lies just a few hundred metres from my house.
Yes, I admit, I’m lucky to live here, to be able to walk within such a wooded suburban landscape, only occasionally jolted by coming across the unexpected denuded block as an old house and a complete block of land is bulldozed for ‘renewal’ and densification.
Trees are a community asset, not just private assets
But the important issue is this: adding trees and greenery can soften even the most brutal buildings, make people feel happier, safer, healthier, prouder, and more valuable. Because trees are truly valuable as a community asset, not just as a private asset of the owner. We can all enjoy the trees and greenery which other people plant and tend. Trees and greenery make the air cleaner, store carbon, encourage birds, provide shade, colour and aesthetic beauty. Trees calm people , provide evidence the wonder of the seasons, of natural cycles of growth, create atmosphere and much, much more. I’ll bet treed, green areas have lower rates of psychological and community issues.
And any home or street or city can do it, if its owner wishes to do so. A close friend lives on the other side of Melbourne. His street was completed denuded of trees when the council put in new sewer lines. But, two years later, the once-bared street feels like a little village, despite its long, straight length, as the trees hide the rather ordinary, small housing frontages that were previously exposed. It feels completely different to visit him.
Trees cost so little compared with buildings
And a tree costs so little compared with a house. How many trees can you buy for $1m? Mostly, we don’t even have an allowance in new building budgets for planting trees and shrubs, yet they have a magical effect on the overall value of the property. Recently, our group was involved in negotiating with the owner of two new Freeway Service Centres, built in farm land. The owner was required to plant 1,500 trees to replace the few large trees it had to remove. Right now, the new centres look like petrol supermarkets, but in two years’ time, the trees will make much of the building invisible from the road.
I don’t like to visit cities much any more. Too many buildings, not enough trees. I prefer to walk in the country and especially in heavily treed, green areas. But when you find a city with tree-lined streets, it’s a completely different experience. For instance, walking in Minneapolis-St Paul where I once lived was a magical experience, as the huge deciduous trees changed colour and foliage with the extreme seasons.
Recently the Australian government magically decided that greener cities – cities with more greenery – should be standard future policy. At least there is something I agree on with the government now. Greenery is highly valuable – to individuals, to communities and to the world.