Local government and our warming suburbs and cities

The following is Sydney Knitting Nannas’ second article in our campaign to engage people in local government before the elections on December 4. This article is about the environment, biodiversity and the livability of our local government area.

What our local councils do now will make a big difference in the rising temperatures caused by climate change. Thousands of mature Sydney trees have been lost to tollway and residential developments over recent decades. We need urgent tree and shrub plantings by Councils to create and restore a healthier environment.

Trees and shrubs are critical to livability and biodiversity. They are also the carbon capture and storage system that really works while bringing many other benefits.

North Sydney Council makes this point well with its carbon storage calculator. Find out more about the carbon being stored by trees in your neighbourhood. One of our Sydney Nanna’s favourite Alexandria trees is storing up to 4,000 kgs of carbon or over 13,000 kgs C02 equivalent. (See photo below.) A rainforest tree of this size would store much more carbon – up to 20,000 kgs C02 equivalent.

We can help
The City of Sydney Council encourages the establishment of community gardens and verge gardening by residents. Some Councils encourage residents to plant native and indigenous shrubs and plants. Randwick Council has had a very successful community nursery with staff who really know their native plants.

Possible question for candidates about improving tree cover, biodiversity and temperatures in our suburbs:

  • Is restoring and increasing tree cover in our local government area an important goal? If so, how could you help if you were elected?
  • If they’ve already been on Council ask what they’ve done to green your suburb.

Now is a great time to tell candidates what you think is working to make our parks and open spaces friendly to people of all ages and abilities, eg:

  • Is there good access for people using wheelchairs and prams?
  • Are there shaded areas with accessible water fountains?
  • Somewhere to sit down out of the sun or rain?
  • Playgrounds suitable for children of different ages and abilities?
  • Separate active recreation areas?
  • Bushy areas that protect wildlife including small birds?
  • Enough recycling and rubbish bins?

We can ask candidates what is on their checklist to improve our parklands.

Earlier this year the Blue Mountains City Council made a commitment to integrate Rights of Nature Principles into its operations and practices. They were the first Australian government entity to join the international Rights of Nature, a movement that aims to ensure a safe and healthy future for our planet. As the City’s work is reviewed for its sustainability the community is encouraged to reorient its relationship with nature, from an essentially exploitative one, to one that recognises the importance of all life on earth.

We could ask candidates:
Would you advocate for our Council to commit to the integration of Rights of Nature
Principles into Council’s operations and practices?

FAKE GRASS – is it the answer?   
Are you wondering why Councils are replacing real grass on sports fields and playgrounds
with fake grass made of plastic?

The arguments for replacing real grass with polluting plastic fake grass are that it can be used 24/7 and it saves on the costs of maintenance. It’s true that fake grass allows for more intense use of sports fields and little waiting time to use them after rain. But does this outweigh the many problems with it?

  • Upfront costs are huge and we can’t predict how long the plastic will last
  • Increased risk of injuries in active sports – ouch it’s so hard!
  • It needs replacement if flooded
  • Not recyclable
  • Health risks because of toxic chemicals used in its production
  • It heats and dries out the environment and is extremely unfriendly to the natural flora, fauna and soils. In heat wave conditions in Western Sydney temperatures on fake grass have been found to reach over 90 degrees celsius.
  • It’s a threat to our waterways because microplastics and black rubber crumbs leech and drain into nearby rivers and creeks.
  • By comparison real grass is safer, cooler and more environmentally friendly for humans, plants, insects and wildlife that contribute to our natural environment.

    What might you ask your candidates about fake grass?

  • What are their views on the use of fake grass by Councils?
  • Would they support a review by councils with a moratorium on more installations while the review is conducted?
  • If they oppose fake grass what alternatives do they support (eg more sports fields and open space, better funding arrangements for maintaining natural environments).

The local government election campaign is a good time for us all to be raising issues about our waterways and rivers. Our Councils need to work together if our waterways are to be properly protected and improved.

South of Sydney Harbour four Sydney Councils and Sydney Water are represented in the
Cooks River Alliance which aims to improve the health of the Cooks River and its catchment. The catchment covers well over 100 square kms of densely populated suburbs. One of the strengths of the Alliance is the many community groups committed to improving the river system through working to reduce pollution, cleaning up and maintaining the waterways.

We can ask candidates what they would do about the issues affecting our waterways if they are elected, e.g protecting them from microplastics, rubbish and other pollution. Also important are actions to improve council support for river protection and Landcare groups, and improving recreational activities on and near our rivers.

picnic table

Councils being prepared to genuinely consult with their communities and take on board the feedback they receive is a great way to make our cities more livable. Councils all claim to ‘consult’ with us and some of them listen and act in the residents’ interests rather than those of developers. Does yours?

Questions for candidates could be:

  • Do you commit to a genuine consultation process that ensures communities are heard above the interests of developers?
  • Are you prepared to stand with the community against state and federal government projects as well as private developers?
  • If they say yes and they’ve been on Council before, we can ask for examples of what they have done to stick up for residents

Other articles compiled by the Sydney Knitting Nannas are on how our councils can reduce emissions, minimise waste and get off gas.

Top image: Ian Potter Children’s Wildplay Garden in Centennial Park

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