New Urban Green Infrastructure handbook from Standards Australia in development
By Gabrielle Stannus
1. Image: Australian Standards website
As the peak national industry body, Greenlife Industry Australia (GIA) has been championing the importance of more green spaces and canopy cover in urban areas through the 202020 Vision, Greener Spaces Better Places and other advocacy and alliance initiatives over the last decade. GIA therefore welcomes the announcement by Standards Australia that it is developing an Urban Green Infrastructure (UGI) specific handbook which will help guide planners and practitioners on how to incorporate UGI into a wide range of infrastructure projects being planned across the country.
Research led by the University of Wollongong and funded by Hort Innovation through the ‘Greener Cities, Healthier Lives’ (GC15005) project as part of the Green Cities Fund, is presenting industry and policy makers with a range of internationally significant studies that have strengthened the case for investing in urban greening strategies in Australian cities. The project has reported links between greening and potential prevention of loneliness, reduced risk of dementia and diabetes, and has revealed the vital roles that green spaces have played in helping people to cope, connect and keep active during COVID-19 lockdowns. Restoring tree canopy cover from <10% to at least 30% is associated with reduced risks (or odds) of developing dementia, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, psychological distress, insufficient sleep, and poor health in general among Australian adults living in cities1.
National and state infrastructure bodies across the country have acknowledged the role that public green spaces play in improving physical and mental health and improving liveability in general. Infrastructure Australia has called for all levels of government to collectively plan to bring these areas to life by including them in transport planning and precinct development and renewal2 . In what some are claiming is an Australian first, a report from Infrastructure Victoria, tabled in that state’s parliament recently, called for the development of a 30% tree canopy target in new growth areas by mandating coverage during precinct development3.
Standards Australia’s recent announcement that it is currently developing an Urban Green Infrastructure (UGI) handbook is indeed timely given this call for more green infrastructure. This handbook aims to provide nationally consistent definitions and terminology and introduce a uniform framework to guide planners and practitioners on how to incorporate UGI into the wide range of infrastructure projects being planned across the country.
According to Standards Australia, a handbook is an informative document that may be used to support a standard or a group of standards already in place4.
A handbook may either aid implementation or provide additional information to users of the standard(s). In some circumstances a handbook may be produced where there is no standard, and no technical committee, but the content is considered to be in the public interest. One possibility is to publish a handbook to gauge reaction and seek comments in a new field; and depending on the feedback, determine whether consensus standardisation activities are warranted.
The UGI handbook is being developed by Standards Australia’s Technical Committee PC-002, HB Urban Green Infrastructure Framework – design, implementation, valuation and maintenance, chaired by Ben Stockwin, CEO of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA). This handbook will go through a peer review process when drafted. Standards Australia normally takes peer reviewers from appropriate committees, but they could also include external technical experts by agreement.
2. Hamish Mitchell, Managing Director, Specialty Trees, believes that the development of the UGI handbook could help provide much-needed clarity to government, industry and developers working in the green infrastructure space (Image: Specialty Trees)
Hamish Mitchell, Managing Director, Specialty Trees, believes that the development of the UGI handbook could help provide much-needed clarity to government, industry and developers working in the green infrastructure space. Hamish was an advisory board member of the industry research project which led to the revision of Australian Standard AS 2303 - Tree Stock for Landscape Use in 2018. He says that the new UGI handbook should cross-reference existing nursery and arboriculture standards, including AS 2303:2018 and AS 4373-2007, Pruning of Amenity Trees, to ensure that all green infrastructure professionals are working together to the one end.
“If there is a minimum level of green space that is required for a healthy society, and governments and developers are required to meet that standard, then we are going to improve people's lives,” says Hamish.
Hamish is hopeful that the handbook may result in the development of minimum standards to achieve this ambition by providing regionally appropriate definitions of what constitutes ‘canopy cover’ and an ‘urban forest’. Hamish says that any trees planted in green infrastructure projects must be viable and sustainable in the long term, i.e. possess sufficient head and root space and be maintained appropriately.
Hamish is therefore keen to ensure that greenlife industry representatives can participate in Standards Australia’s peer review process when it occurs, if not earlier, so that this industry’s expertise is considered in the development of this important handbook.