Warning for Western Sydney: ignore trees at your peril

TCL Terrence Stapleton at Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre NSW Photogrpahy Peter Ayres 1024x768 1

Above: TCL’s Terrence Stapleton at Gunyama Park Aquatic and Recreation Centre, NSW

(photography Peter Ayres)

Proposed precincts of more than 5,000 homes, along with a new international airport, will see Western Sydney take off over the next few years. Little wonder it’s the state’s fastest-growing region.

As planning progresses, local landscape architect Terrence Stapleton is championing our greatest natural assets, trees. Terrence heads up the Sydney studio of TCL — a national design practice made up of urban designers, landscape architects and masterplanners who are often called upon to lead design projects.

Together, their extensive research has revealed the irrefutable power of trees to cool cities, clean the air and bolster the health and wellbeing of communities. Recently, this research (A Case For Trees) was collated as a guide for governments, councils, developers and homeowners. The guide provides compelling statistics and supplementary evidence to substantiate why trees must be prioritised at the outset of any design process.

Terrence points out it may take twenty years for trees to reach maturity but their size and siting need to be planned well in advance. “Adequate space and soil for large, leafy tree canopies and deep root systems must be considered before new residential developments, services and infrastructure are complete in Western Sydney.”

Above: Lonsdale Street (photography Ben Wrigley)

Increasing property value                                       

Terrence admits Western Sydney, with its proliferation of farmland and greenfield sites, may not currently have the allure of other parts of the city, where wide tree canopies are in abundance. He’s referring, of course, to ‘leafy’ suburbs like Mossman, Balmain, Willoughby and Annandale.

A Case For Trees cites AECOM‘s Green Infrastructure Report — a study of three Sydney suburbs that suggest a 10 per cent increase in a street’s tree canopy could increase property values by an average of $50,000. Moreover, it can reduce energy bills by up to $400 every year.

So the hip-pocket benefits of trees clearly stack up. But that’s not all …

Terrence describes trees as natural ‘air purifiers’ — producing significant amounts of oxygen that help mitigate carbon emissions and other pollutants. Their ability to counter rising summer temps cannot be underestimated either. Once again, A Case For Trees points to clear evidence.

Research by the City of Sydney indicates that for every 10% increase in the urban forest canopy coverage, land surface temperatures can decrease by 1.13degrees. That same research also uncovered a staggering statistic: One tree cools the same as ten air-conditioners running simultaneously per year.

Above: UNSW Village Green (Photography: Brett Boardman)

The right trees in the right place 

Terrence points out the importance of prioritising species’ selection to suit climatic conditions.

“The climate has changed so much that the species we traditionally favoured for Sydney are now no longer able to survive these hotter conditions,” he explains. “So it makes sense to source species robust enough to withstand more tropical conditions.”

Terrence’s advice for Western Sydney is simple — create a biodiverse set of tree groupings. This strategy is, of course, essential to create ideal habitats to sustain native fauna. But it’s not just wildlife poised to benefit.

“Humans are part of nature. We are not separate from nature. Living in concrete jungles is not our natural habitat. We are part of an ecosystem that needs to be connected to nature and trees.”

Above: Southbank Boulevard 

(Photography Dianna Snape) 

Silencing the critics 

In response to vandalism of public trees, Terrence offers a measured but impassioned response.

“Firstly, well-designed public spaces should honour and protect existing, established trees,” he says.

“Secondly, the evidence is clear — trees are an incredible natural resource that benefit our mental and physical health. Destruction of that resource is not only reckless but detrimental.”

A Case for Trees comprehensively outlines the health benefits of trees, siting research that reveals communities with street trees have reported better overall health in comparison to communities with none.

The potential of trees/tree canopies to reduce exposure to UV rays, mitigate heat-island effect and promote wellbeing by walking ‘in nature’ are all well documented. Unsurprisingly, Terrence is a proponent of ‘biophilic design’ — whereby connection to nature is prioritised.

A significant section of A Case for Trees cites research highlighting the power of walking in trees to enhance mental health and reduce blood pressure and anxiety. Readers will discover one study’s findings that hospital patients who had a view of trees were shown to recover quicker and with fewer complications in comparison to those without.

About TCL

TCL are urban designers, landscape architects, masterplanners and principal consultants. We design places to become ‘destinations’ and ‘drawcards’ that transform cities and regions, helping them thrive and prosper long term.

Our concepts are big and impactful but our execution honours the smallest of detail. T.C.L projects are always finely crafted and acutely resolved.

We work across all sectors, and at all scales, leveraging our expertise for public and private projects throughout Australia and internationally.



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