Canberra is globally unique as a planned city in a forest. As with many other elements of their design for the new capital, the Griffin’s vision of Canberra was ahead of its time in recognising the many benefits of a treed urban landscape. Those benefits – for human health and wellbeing, and for the environment – are now much more widely recognised.
It took decades of work and experimentation – led first by Charles Weston and subsequently by Lindsay Pryor – for the Griffin’s vision to be realised. They and other forestry and landscape professionals recognised how challenging an environment Canberra’s limestone plains presented for the sort of treescape that the Griffins imagined. But progressively, the street, park and household trees suited to Canberra’s climate and soils were identified and established on an unprecedented scale.
Today, there are two street or park trees for every Canberran, cooling streets and buildings, sequestering significant amounts of carbon, trapping particulate pollutants, improving soil water retention, and housing much of Canberra’s biodiversity.
A century on, we face new challenges associated with climate change and transitioning to a more compact city as our population grows. Some tree species in our urban forest are not well-adapted to the hotter, dryer and more extreme climate future expected for the ACT.
A recent CSIRO study for the ACT Government on surface urban heat identified the importance of urban trees and lakes in keeping our city cool and people healthy.
Two professional associations concerned with urban forests, the Institute of Foresters of Australia and Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, with the ANU Fenner School of Environment & Society and Climate Change Institute, used International Day of Forests 2018 on 21 March, with its theme of Forests for Sustainable Cities, to convene a ‘field forum’ at the National Arboretum Canberra.
Professors Mark Howden (Director, ANU Climate Change Institute) and Saul Cunningham (Director, Fenner School of Environment & Society) joined Institute of Landscape Architects ACT Past President Catherine Keirnan and Institute of Foresters ACT Co-Chair Peter Kanowski in discussing how academics and professional associations could work most effectively with government and the community to respond to these challenges. The ACT Government’s recently released Living Infrastructure Information Paper, part of the process of developing a new ACT climate strategy, offers an immediate focus for that collaboration.
Future-proofing Canberra’s treescapes will also be high on the agenda for the upcoming ACT Tree Week (30 April - 6 May) and the Institute of Foresters 2018 national conference at ANU, on Trees for Healthy Cities, Farms and Communities (2-5 September).