Our trees, our streets, our community

Article image - Our trees, our streets, our community Students from Como West Primary School participate in Sutherland Shire Council’s ‘Greenstreets’ program, taking ‘ownership’ of the trees and helping to shape their community. Sutherland Shire in New South Wales has turned revenue raised from environmental offences into a successful community tree-planting program, revitalising the public spaces in the region.

The Shire has always boasted a unique tree canopy that is highly valued by its residents; however, the impact of larger houses, smaller lot sizes and higher density development has seen a decline in remnant bushland and Indigenous trees. At the same time, many trees were reaching the end of their natural lifespan.

Sutherland Shire Council recognised that, while the character of the established canopy needed to be retained, a shift from private planting to public spaces planting was required.

As most councils are aware, planting along road reserves and in parks can be an expensive process. Sutherland Shire notes that amongst trees planted by Council without using protective cages there is only a 50 percent survival rate at six months. Yet the use of cages to achieve a higher survival rate is expensive, quadrupling the cost of tree planting along road reserves.

In tackling the issue, Sutherland Shire Council’s Environment & Building Compliance team came up with the idea of creating community ownership of the trees, as a method of protection in lieu of expensive cages. The ‘Greenstreets’ program was fully funded with revenue raised from fines for environmental offences, such as illegal tree removal.

Council then partnered with the ‘Green Teams’ from Como West and Jannali primary schools to plant trees along a two-kilometre stretch of road between the two schools. Each tree was tagged with a message from and the name of the child who planted the tree.

Six months down the track the success of the project was measured, with a tree survival rate of 92 percent — significantly higher than that of trees planted by Council without community involvement.

Sutherland Shire Manager of Environment & Building Compliance, Michael Ryan, said, “The results are obvious — community engagement is the key. The program not only delivers environmental benefits, but also social benefits, with the community being actively engaged in shaping the place where they live.”

Community feedback from the program was overwhelmingly positive, with Council receiving many letters of support. One resident stated:

“I would like to express my pleasure in the recent tree planting in Como. When the trees are established, it will greatly improve the atmosphere and ambiance of the local area … We appreciate Council continuing to support and develop the green environment, particularly when it is funded from fines.”

Council is currently planning its next ‘Greenstreets’ project, which involves planting alongside a main arterial road that links several suburbs over approximately seven kilometres. Council plans to engage schools, community groups and local businesses in the process of turning a road that is dominated by the built form into a tree-lined showpiece.

Sutherland Shire Council’s ‘Greenstreets’ program is a great example of local government working with the community to shape the future of the environmental and social landscape.