promoting nature: a political perspective



When we moved here the street was lined with small to medium sized houses surrounded by large leafy gardens.  Today - 34 years later! - most of these houses have been demolished and replaced with large square double story McMansions. Each family member has their own bedroom with their own ensuite bathroom. Without trees or verandahs to shade the house, the families living in these houses rely on airconditioning to protect them from the ever increasing hot summers.

With the destruction of their habitat, birds, possums and other wildlife have noticeably decreased in numbers. Whether they've died or moved on, I can't say. But much of the wildlife has gone, making my life the poorer for it. I believe everyone's life is made poorer, but some people are so disconnected from nature, they like it that way.

I've been whinging and writing about the loss of biodiversity in my local area for years. Now I'm thinking it would be more positive to see myself as a stakeholder with the power to get involved in local planning issues. 

Issues that determine how land is used, developed, protected or conserved - these are the crucial issues for getting a better ratio of nature to concrete.

Planning decisions have been mainly regulated by state governments and their laws, but new legislation is aimed at giving more power to local governments. Each local government area is obliged to provide a planning scheme that takes into account environmental, social and economic considerations.

All too often economic considerations trump environmental ones. In some ways, it would be easier to see this in black - white terms: nature = good, development = bad. But I know it's not that simple. The goodies and the baddies all wear shades of grey, so sometimes it's hard to tell them apart.

Planting for biodiversity, Koonung Creek, August 2012
By now the final draft of the City of Boroondara's Urban Biodiversity Strategy  (2013 - 2023) will have been discussed and adopted. Feedback from the community supported improving the quality of vegetation in biodiversity sites, and increasing the allocation of land devoted to biodiversity. The main concerns were the impacts of urban development, climate change, degradation of waterways and environmental weeds.

Once the Strategy is adopted, a detailed action plan and monitoring framework will be worked out.  A wonderful plan is worth little until it's implemented. You need the plan, but you also need to make sure it's being implemented properly. In the spirit of being positive, I'll try to curtail my cynicism while maintaining a sceptical attitude.

You can't take things for granted, even with formally established institutions like National Parks. National Parks are currently under threat. Recently State Premiers have changed laws to allow logging, shooting, mining and cattle grazing in National Parks.  And now they're offering Parks as 99 year leases, effectively placing them in private hands. Get Up is currently campaigning against this.


Two months ago a renovated shopping centre opened in Paris. Beaugrenelle shopping centre has a green roof, the size of a football stadium, with plantings to provide a haven for biodiversity. There are also beehives and nesting boxes for birds. France's League for the Protection of Birds (LPO) is a partner in the project.

In Mumbai, India, a 115 storey building called Imperial Tower, is being planned. The plan includes several sky gardens.

In Turkey there are currently riots against the government. The riots are the result of underlying dissatisfaction, but the trigger was the government's decision to allow developers in to destroy Gezi Park, a public park and one of the last green spaces in the area.

Taksim Gezi Park, Istanbul (photo from Wikipedia)
Problems in Greater Melbourne include neglect of public transport, urban sprawl and loss of biodiversity. Green roofs alone won't solve these problems, but the Paris example shows it's possible to have a company invest money in the natural environment. The Turkey example shows how much people value their public natural spaces. I'm not advocating rioting, but as stakeholders in, and advocates for, nature, let's tell governments what we want.  Planning for green spaces needs to be accepted as an integral part of urban planning.

Suburban street tree
Callistemon growing in suburban street
This issue matters for present and future generations.



Comments

  1. Nicely put! The garden-encroaching McMansions built practically to the edge of the property line is an issue in many areas. Many parents don't like their children to play outside because they'll get dirty. Yikes! Times are strange.

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    1. there's so much fear, it doesn't make for happiness, or generosity.

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  2. Oh, you are singing my song from here in economically depressed Niagara Falls where they give money to any developer that looks their way. The developers mismanage the money, leave a big mess behind and have no responsibility to the taxpayers and City. Much of the City is torn down, with more and more each year having nothing to replace the demo, just lots of weeded concrete. Why, contractors make money from these gov. contacts. Those that paid the elected officials to help get them in office of course. There is also rampant nepotism. I could go on and on. I have sat on the Historical Board and work directly with planners in my occupation, so I have been intimate with these issues for a long time. This place is a literal dump with no remedial hope in sight! Wildlife should not even WANT to live here. The State Parks are the only saving grace here. If the City could touch them, the area would be completely doomed. I enjoyed your rant. it is one every city should take a good hard look at.

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    1. interesting comment Donna, it's a challenge what to do when corruption is normalized and more or less legal.

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  3. Good for you for stepping up. The only way to get the world we want is for all of us to step up in a small way. The loss of the old neighbourhoods is demoralising. All those lovely gardens. There is plenty of documentation on nature deprivation in children. Developers are providing jobs, but it is up to us to see they develop along lines good for us and the planet. I'm so with you. Keep us posted.

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    1. thanks Susan, so far I have only stepped up in good intentions! Re nature deprivation in children, last week I met a (happy) Italian guy from a rural mountainous area, and when he was 13 he spent 2 months in a hut with a couple of other kids looking after goats. The only bad consequence was that ever since he can't bear to eat tinned sardines!

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  4. I heard about the shooting regulations which are absolutely disgraceful, but I didn't hear about the logging mining and cattle grazing. Well there goes our National Parks.

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    1. hi Karen, we can't take anything for granted, but they won't be taken without a big fight.

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  5. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful, fair, and eloquent post. What you said about shades of gray is so true. That makes the decisions even harder. I'm so sorry that people have removed trees and vegetation in your neighborhood. That certainly happens here, too! What I really don't understand is when new neighborhoods are developed and all the trees are removed, only to plant new nursery-grown puny ones. It's often not too difficult to retain many of the existing trees, shrubs, plants...and therefore wildlife...and still build homes for people to live in harmony with nature as much as possible. Great post!

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    1. Hi beth, you'd think it wouldn't be difficult, but developers often don't seem to think like us.

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  6. There was a big movement towards McMansions in the Chicago area as well. Personally I found these houses to be borderline obscene, and certainly not beautiful. The recession put an end to that for the time being. The ceding of public lands and spaces to private interests continues, though, which greatly concerns me.

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    1. Maybe something positive can come out of the recession? Like a paradigm shift in thinking? I'm probably being ridiculously hopelessly idealistic.

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  7. This unfortunately is happening the world over. Here in Devon each village has been told that they have to have more houses built, how many depends on how big the village already is. We have been told we have to have 5 houses built, this is over and above any infilling that might take place. Why? where are these people coming from? The only land available is Green Belt or farmland. Do they listen when we protest at Council meetings - of course not! We will keep on protesting but it doesn't do any good, they don't listen.

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    1. Pauline, do you know your comment no longer links back to your blog? I haven't visited for ages, please send me the link. Such rules like having to have 5 more houses built sound very weird and bureaucratic. Lots of our urban farmland has been given over recently too to development. People here are generally opposed to high density living so they spread out even though the infrastructure out there is poor.

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  8. I hope (if you have the stamina!) you do get involved in local planning issues, Catmint. Yours is a reasonable voice. There really needs to a law in place obliging a proportion of land be left unbuilt in relation to the built area. Everywhere now, you see too much new building on too little land, with space left only for a smudge of garden decoration, certainly not enough for any meaningful habitat.
    I don't think our State governments have ever taken this issue seriously since Dick Hamer. Ideals have always been sold out for profit and convenience.
    People in power often seem to forget why they're there, don't they?
    Governments always need reminding of their duty of care, and to give way a bit on expediency.

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    1. hi faisal, you really do know me, I hope I have the stamina to get involved.

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  9. gosh, sometimes it's like society has to go full circle. destroy and mcmansion it, then realize somethings wrong in an effort to get it back to the way it was. It's sort of maddening. Anyway, ggreat organizations out there. Your posts area always interesting and thought-provoking.

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    1. dear wendy, we had noodle salad with peanut sauce last night and i always think of you when we have it because the recipe came from you. It's delish. Thank you for the compliment re my posts. When they realize something's wrong, what will they do with all the Macmansions? I wonder what the street will look like in, say, 70 years when I will be long gone and my oldest grandson will be 74?

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  10. Excellent post! I am always amazed when I meet someone who has no interest in plants or any other part of the natural world. They are happy to be cocooned inside their artificial environments. So we end up with McMansions with tiny yards but little connection with the neighbors. So we end up with malls and roadways covering the land to provide convenience. It is hard to win. In our area there was once a road that ran through extraordinarily beautiful land. When the road was turned into a multilane highway, commercial development began. There were all sorts of commissions and public meetings to ensure that the development was done in an environmentally friendly and esthetically pleasing way. That lasted a couple of years, but then the commercial and residential sprawl took over and consumed the land. Now that highway has some of the worse traffic in the state, and one would never guess what the surrounding area once was.

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    1. hi deb, that's "progess", isn't it?

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  11. Wow and I thought it was bad here...it appears we are all having issues around the world and your insight and involvement will serve your area well...hopefully more will follow suite. I was really shocked at the selling of your National arks. That is just awful and so unbelievable that we have governments that would sell out our health, our environment and planet.

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    1. hi donna, thanks for the comment, it's a puzzle, because I don't think most people in government are evil, they just have genuinely radically different ideas about the common good than we do.

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  12. "I'm so sorry that people have removed trees and vegetation in your neighborhood. That certainly happens here, too! What I really don't understand is when new neighborhoods are developed and all the trees are removed, only to plant new nursery-grown puny ones."

    Could not agree more..

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    1. hi Samantha, thanks for the visit and comment. I love your blog, have visited and intend to comment soon.

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  13. I see the same attitudes here. I have students who are horrified at the thought of touching wildlife and then fascinated when they do. Even the adults I often meet spend their entire day inside and can't stand to be outside unless they're laying on a beach somewhere. They are environmentally isolated and are raising kids with no understanding of the natural world. Very sad.

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    1. Hi Tammy, luckily here the schools are helping kids to get in touch with nature. But I don't ;know if it happens in the US?

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  14. This is not a problem in your area alone. We also have developers who do not care at all about maintaining a balance between modern conveniences and the environment. Although not enough for my liking, we are thankfully beginning to see more and more people care about nature. Some of the premier urban and suburban developments in our country now have nature and farm themes. Hopefully this will happen less in your locale and more the world over.

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    1. hi Bom, lovely to hear from you. I think what's needed are stronger laws. There used to be laws about how close to the boundary you could build, for example, but developers and government have become cosy, if not downright corrupt, and such laws are no longer.

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  15. I guess most of us do wear shades of grey. In my experience local council serves us here no better than government. Our big issue is that they want to place those massive wind turbines all over the place and it would seem that there is as much issues against as there are for.

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    1. dear Alastair, that is a really hard one. A real example of conflict of interest. It seems like a good thing for people far away, but awful for people living near them.

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  16. A really good post, Catmint.
    One of my siblings built a McMansion and I think it is awful.
    I am not sure what the law is these days in Melbourne regarding the sub-division of housing blocks into two or three (or more) dwellings but that is another thing I think is terrible.
    My own house is on covenanted land and the blocks that surround our small 'estate' of houses in Chirnside Park may not be divided into less than 5 hectare 'blocks' but how long will that last? Once upon a time it was all farm land and before that it was bushland . . .
    The problem is that these McMansions will always be there if people want them and are prepared to pay for them. A change of mindset in the population is what is needed. I am not sure that will ever happen though.

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    1. hi Kirk, the law used to be much more stringent . I know that part of Melbourne used to be farms and orchards. The suburbs are spreading further and further out as people look for cheaper housing. But it's not all gloom. There are people doing good things, like what's happening in schools re growing food and cooking. And the kids are learning stuff about the environment.

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  17. You have made an excellent post & you said that you are amateur blogger. Is it true because your writing style is quite impressive. Thanks & cheers! Here my blog Plant Nursery in Karjat

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    1. thanks for the compliment Joey.

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  18. Here, here Catmint! I hope you become involved and win enough battles to be proud and make a difference! I always recall the Joni Mitchell song They Paved Paradise.

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    1. Hi Kathy, you know - at the time I was listening to that song, I never thought about what it meant!!!! You've opened my ears / brain - thanks.

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  19. One thing that I think encourages the building of larger houses with smaller yards is that as land in a certain area gets more expensive, a developer needs to build a bigger, more expensive house on the same size lot in order to make a profit. Another reason is certainly that a lot of people have little or no interest in the natural world and would consider a large yard to be a burden.

    In the area where I live in the northeastern USA, there is plenty of forest - more than there was 200 years ago, due to farms being abandoned as the farmers moved to areas of the country with more fertile soil. Some species of animals have made a big comeback due to hunting restrictions and the expansion of the forests. On the other hand, the forests are crisscrossed with roads and housing developments that can impede the movement of wildlife, invasive plants and animals are a problem, and some species may be pushed out if the climate warms up enough. There are plenty of problems, though it's not quite as bad as in a lot of other parts of the world.

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    1. Hi RPS, interesting - thanks for the different slant on the story.

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