Why we should shatter Melbourne’s concrete creeks

Written by Tom de Aizpurua

Our connection to nature continues to change over the years, for better or worse. Only in the 1960s did engineers and town planners decided to tame some of Melbourne’s vital rivers and streams with concrete to reduce the flood risk throughout the city, with the idea to protect neighbouring communities . Small streams were converted into underground pipes and although the idea did mitigate flood risk, what we might’ve gained in flood protection has come at the cost of losing some of our unique and vital biodiversity.

There are now plans to revert natural waterways back to their original form, including Moonee Ponds Creek, Gardiner’s Creek in Melbourne’s east, Elwood Canal and Stony Creek in the city’s west. Professor Sarah Bekessy at ICON Science and Professor Tim Fletcher from the University of Melbourne highlight the importance of reversing the damage placed on our urban rivers and streams in a recent article for The Age

The Benefits

Projects like this result in an increase in climate cooling, decreasing energy consumption needed for heating and cooling. This can reduce peaks in stormwater runoff and provide shelter from extreme weather events. A boost in vegetation coverage through projects like this can sequester greenhouse gases and allow for cities to store as much carbon per unit area as a tropical rainforest.

These community projects provide an opportunity to allow space for traditional custodians to engage and lead in the planning processes. The community can learn how to appropriately re-nature rivers and creeks, understand landscape patterns and practice correct ecological management that existed pre-colonisation.

Along with the immense environmental gains urban nature projects like these can provide, there is now compelling research to show that people experience greater health and wellbeing outcomes when surrounded by nature. Urban nature helps our thoughts, our work life and the way we handle stress. Maintaining an equivalent level of flood mitigation is key to protect people’s homes and livelihoods so careful modelling of the way water will flow through the catchment and the waterway is essential. A remodelling of the entire catchment and waterway can be aided by water sensitive urban design philosophies (WSUD) with an emphasis on improving the quality of storm water run-off back to its natural state. This process allows us to reduce the amount we take from our water catchments. Improving the quality of the storm water run-off will enhance vegetation throughout the city and provide opportunities to create ‘blue-green’ spaces. The flow on effect of such benefits is that some animals will return back to their natural habitat quickly without any planning required.

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