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Urban Forest Fund helps turn concrete common areas into apartment block oases

By Nicole Mills, Saturday August 11, 2018 - 07:19 EST
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Shane Bowden, Milla Mihailova and Alistair Kirkpatrick have taken the initiative to fight urban heat. - ABC

Apartment residents in Melbourne's inner-west have united to transform their stark, concrete communal areas into green oases to help combat the effects of climate change.

projected daily temperatures in Melbourne would rise 3.8C above existing records by the end of the century, even hitting 50C on some days.

But as our cities get hotter, green spaces are increasingly being looked at as a way to cool the concrete jungles.

It has even prompted the City of Melbourne to offer predominantly ratepayer-funded grants to owners wanting to green private land.

Kensington resident Milla Mihailova is a keen environmentalist, so when she saw an opportunity to make her apartment complex greener she jumped at the chance.

Having successfully introduced small vegetable gardens at her 45-unit complex, Ms Mihailova sought support from her neighbours for a radical plan to overhaul the remaining outdoor space.



The design involved more than 1,500 new plants, 34 planter boxes, stormwater harvesting and a large vertical garden that would insulate adjoining apartments.

They pitched their idea to the City of Melbourne's Urban Forest Fund and received a $100,000 grant to be matched dollar for dollar by residents.

"We live in a very concrete environment and living so close to the city we're really limited in our own green spaces," she said.

"To be able to get all that greenery and help the environment, it seemed like a great opportunity."

She hopes the project will also foster better relationships between neighbours as they become more likely to gather in communal spaces.

"I'm really excited to see it come to fruition because I think it will make such a difference to how we use our space and create more of a feeling of a neighbourly, friendly environment instead of just a passageway where people don't really say hello."

Working as a team


Owners corporation manager Shane Bowden admits it's not always easy to get neighbours to agree.

He said the key to getting a consensus was to find someone to drive the project and to get the support of the committee.

Any significant change to communal space in an owners corporation (formerly known as a body corporate) in Victoria requires a special resolution to be passed with the support of at least 75 per cent of owners.

"There were a few hurdles and challenges as you can imagine, people with their own agendas," he said.

"The [Owners Corporation] Act doesn't define significant, so ... as a manager I would recommend that you get the special resolution first before you go through this process. It gets a lot of angst out of the way and means the owners' group is working as a team to achieve the same goals."



Ms Mihailova said the success of the proposal was also due to the designs done by landscape architect Alistair Kirkpatrick.

It was the most difficult part of the plan to convince other residents to support, because they had to help pay for the designs upfront without knowing if their funding application would be successful.

This was made easier by the existence of a "fighting fund" which residents had built up over a number of years to pay for maintenance and improvements, meaning there were no immediate additional out-of-pocket expenses.

"After talking to the [City of Melbourne] council, they said having the landscape architect's plans really showed to them that we were really committed and that it was a really tangible project," Ms Mihailova said.



Mr Kirkpatrick has been working as a landscape architect in urban spaces for several years and said an increasing number of his clients were seeking green spaces to provide shelter from heat.

"With our summers becoming more extreme and heatwaves becoming more common, heat refuges are becoming more and more important, especially for elderly people who don't drive," he said.

"So having that [courtyard] accessible to Smithfield Road means people, if they're physically able to come down those stairs, the temperature will drop about 5C in summer, so it becomes a really important refuge for people moving about this area."

He said building a sense of community around the small vegetable gardens helped Ms Mihailova win her neighbours' support.

"As an outsider, I think one of the reasons why this project was so successful was because Milla had already spearheaded this kind of communal approach with everyone growing vegetables. It was wonderful to see so much love in that communal space.

"Greening is a fantastic way to foster community because it tends to be socio-politically neutral and culturally neutral.

"People who are are quite disparate can be brought together by something that everyone's got in common."

New funding round

The City of Melbourne's environment spokeswoman, Councillor Cathy Oke, said private property represented 73 per cent of all land in the municipality.

Funding greening projects on private land helped mitigate the urban heat island effect, which benefitted everyone visiting the city, she said.

"Encouraging greening on private property ... is the next step to expanding our urban forest and increasing green space and canopy cover."

The second round of the will be open for applications from August 27 until October 22.

Grants range from $25,000 to $500,000 which must be matched by residents.

To date, the fund has received $1 million from the City of Melbourne and a $215,000 contribution from VicRoads.

There are plans to grow it to a $10 million fund over the next four years through a combination of council money and contributions from organisations and individuals.


- ABC

© ABC 2018

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