Original image by Jacob Komesaroff
The Victorian Government is being urged to plant more trees and build more parks in Melbourne’s west.
Green spaces were a lifeline for many people during COVID lockdowns, and a place for exercise and relaxation long before, but not everybody is lucky enough to have a local park.
About 340,000 people don’t have a park within walking distance of their home.
And people living in the western suburbs are missing out the most, according to a new Parliamentary Inquiry report.
This isn’t just some geographical quirk. Rather, the ‘green east’ and the ‘barren west’ mimic an established socioeconomic divide:
Put plainly, if you’re surviving on a low income, renting or living in a poorer suburb, you’re less likely to be surrounded by parks or trees.
Is that fair? Of course not.
Not just because every Melburnian should have equal access to green spaces, but because not providing people with local parkland actively makes them poorer and sicker.
Trees do an amazing job of sucking up the heat and keeping people cool, meaning ‘greener suburbs’ stay relatively cooler in the heat.
On the flipside, people in hotter and poorer areas (with fewer parks) are more likely to also be in cheap or shoddy housing. With poor insulation and perhaps no air conditioning (or the money to run it) these people literally bake inside their homes.
This exacerbates existing ill health, and causes new medical conditions.
This dynamic is compounded further if you have a disability or mobility challenge, and you can’t easily seek refuge at your local shop, library or community center.
Not providing people with local parkland actively makes them poorer and sicker.
Access to kids’ sport is also a factor, with many low-income families reliant on public infrastructure like basketball courts and ovals. If they’re not there, you can’t use them.
Climate change will turbocharge every component of this existing challenge.
In a report released last week, the Victorian Parliament’s Environment and Planning Committee made a series of sensible suggestions to address this.
They include the Victorian Government setting two new targets: one determining how much parkland should be required near people’s homes, and the other saying how much ‘tree canopy’ new suburbs should require.
The Government has already acknowledged the problem and made a first step towards fixing it by pledging to plant 500,000 trees in Melbourne’s west over the next two years. The report suggested that this and future tree-planting programs should be quantified, so we know how Melbourne is going with its greening targets.
The challenge and some of the solutions have now been laid out for policymakers.
The next step is action.