Mayors Voices: Robert Doyle, Lord Mayor of Melbourne on the Urban Landscape Adaptation Program

Editor's Note: Melbourne's Urban Landscape Climate Adaptation Program has been selected as a finalist in the Adaptation & Resilience category of the City Climate Leadership Awards. 

Australia is the driest continent in the world. In 2009 we felt the worst of it.

Over 10 days the temperature exceeded 104 degrees Fahrenheit culminating in a 116 degree day that we would refer to as ‘Black Saturday’.

One hundred and seventy three lives and 2029 homes were lost in the worst bushfire in Victoria’s history. That extreme weather event also caused irreparable damage to our trees: 40 per cent of them were in decline or dying. It was summer, but looked like autumn because all the trees had lost their leaves.

As a City Council whose responsibility is the central city, not the entire metropolis, we knew we had to do something. We asked ourselves: what is the value of our green infrastructure? We measured the environmental and amenity value of our trees. The perception had shifted from viewing our trees as a nice thing to have, to a major community asset and vital defence against extreme heat.

We knew we had to protect, restore and increase our urban forest asset. In 2010, we established the Urban Landscape Climate Adaptation Program which was tasked with the goals of doubling our tree canopy cover, cooling our city by four degrees and retaining our precious water resource through stormwater harvesting.

In the last four years we have spent $40 million (AUD) on a program of works to transition Melbourne’s urban landscapes from vulnerability to resilience. Project delivery has included urban forest expansion, streetscape adaptation, development of green roofs and walls, integrated water management and stormwater harvesting, open space expansion, introducing permeable pavements and landscape cooling projects.

We planted 12,000 new trees and our urban forest asset is now valued at $1 billion. We have converted 5000m2 of asphalt into parkland. We now capture 25 per cent of our annual landscape water requirements through stormwater harvesting.

We often think of the trees as the lungs of our city, but they are also its heart and soul. The whole community owns the existing trees and future trees. There are few political, budget or policy decisions that must deliver for people in 100 years. In politics, so much is driven by the artificial three or four year election cycle. Not this plan. Our trees are too important.