The natural secrets of urban well being

Butterfly street art

But I don’t feel afraid. As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset, I am in Paradise.

Exactly 30 years ago, in April 1984, the journal Science published a seminal paper in environmental psychology. The study compared the recovery of patients in two sets of hospital rooms, identical in every respect except one. Patients in half of the rooms looked through a window to trees in a park. Patients in the other rooms faced a brick wall. The author, Roger Ulrich, wondered whether exposure to nature improves human well-being, and his experiment tested whether the patients who viewed the park recovered more quickly after surgery. Continue reading

Why do we plant and remove urban trees?

Garden magazines 2What does the future hold for the urban forest? What is the urban forest? The term – like green infrastructure – suggests an integrated entity, perhaps collectively planned and managed. But most urban trees are in private gardens, not public spaces, and gardening is a personal, individualistic pastime, not a collective enterprise.

If the seeds of the urban forest are sown in a million home gardens, then we need to know how residents relate to garden trees. Let’s take a peek into the frontal lobes and back yards of our neighbours, and ask: why do we plant and remove urban trees? Continue reading

Won’t the real Shady City please stand up?

brisbane_cardTourism brochures would have us believe that almost every Australian city is a ‘city of gardens’. Since tourism marketeers are just real estate agents on uppers, it’s reasonable to ask sceptically, ‘which cities do have the most green space?’ or more simply, ‘which cities have the most trees?’ Continue reading

50 shades of green: cooling the suburbs

Bendigo StreetscapeHow many trees are in your suburb: lots, a few, not enough? What about that suburb over the river, are there more trees there? As summer heatwaves hit, the benefits from shady urban trees grow more and more obvious. But why do some suburbs have more trees and shade than others? Is it a matter of ecology, history, policy, or the people who live there? Do the folks down the road just hate trees too much? Continue reading

Framing the plains and packaging remnants

von Guerard Bushy Park

A friend once asked, ‘why do botanists have such terrible gardens?’

The question might have triggered a long discussion, had we not just left my house. I changed the subject instead. Years later, I think I’ve worked out a credible response. It’s partly about scale. The scales at which people see gardens and ecosystems.

Take grasslands for example. Continue reading

Monitoring ecological change: a view from the streets

1 Street View Young Red ExoticImagine you live in the year 2063. You want to understand how the distribution of tree species changed in the past 50 years, to help you to assess the impacts of climate change.

What kind of data would you wish you had from 2013?

Let’s brain-storm a few ideas. I’m sure it’d be helpful if, back in 2013, people had recorded the distribution of plants along transects that criss-crossed the countryside, crossing the wet-to-dry climate gradient. This information would allow you to see which species expanded, contracted or migrated during the period, and how these changes related to changes in rainfall. Continue reading