Tag Archives: green streets

Jobs of the Future: Urban Farmer

Position Description; Urban Farmer sought for Smith Street Community. Must have extensive knowledge in horticulture, aquaponics and bee keeping. The role includes providing support and teaching to the community who wish to increase their food security, enhance community resilience and mutual reliance, and re-connect their families and children with organic, seasonal and healthy food.

The majority of homes and street verges are under-productive and require the establishment of new street orchards, planted verges and diverse seasonal produce crops on individual Lots, with the intention to swap produce through a weekly urban orchard program. An additional pilot program underway in conjunction with local Council includes returning sections of street parking to vegetated and edible rain gardens.


what would an urban farmer post be without Michael Mobbs?


The Forester must have a strong understanding of organic horticulture, natural soil production and local climatic conditions. Understanding of local soil conditions an advantage. Strong engagement skills and familiarity with working with local Councils is desirable, and the Forester will be collaborating with the local Council in managing the assignment of their annual Community Resilience funding.

Ability to craft hand-made beer will be considered an added advantage by the community’s enthusiastic annual home brewing contestants.

Remuneration will be subject to performance, diversity and quality of product, and community feedback. Payment sources shall be the following;

  • Nominal part cash payment comprised of monthly contributions from the community;
  • Part payment from Council Community Resilience program funding;
  • Part payment from Community members’ health insurance providers [for providing healthy organic food and supporting community involvement];
  • Part payment from the State Health Department [for reducing demand on healthcare provision through providing healthy food and enhanced social capital];
  • Part payment as share of produce.

If you don’t mind a little hard work, a lot of socialising and garden chats, herding ducks and farming fish, dodging children’s toys, teaching adults and children, mucking with compost, stealing from bees and chickens, and beer tasting, then give us a call – we’d love to hear from you.

… We already get health insurer subsidies for gym membership and physiotherapy, and it’s only a matter of time before we get the same for consuming healthier food, joining community groups and for making our neighbourhoods more resilient. This job would be a great gig.





SITES – Could it Fill The Gap Between Our Rating Tools?

If you’re familiar with the mainstream ‘green building’ rating tools you’ll know that landscape is often captured within one or two credits amongst the entire tool, and there is generally nothing that rewards good place making.

There’s a case for putting more emphasis on the landscape for the following two reasons;

  1. The landscape we create externally to the building often has the potential for ecological good that far outweighs what the building is doing, and
  2. It’s the landscape (and building edges) that creates our public space – indeed the spaces external to our green buildings are the canvas for our experiences of the city.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative from the American Society of Landscape Architects is a terrific ‘public spaces’ and landscape guide and certification tool. It addresses the full bottle of landscape opportunities and includes a ‘Site Design – Human Health and Wellbeing’ category which gets right into the detail of place making.


Check out the site during some me-time on your Friday. The rating tool guide and supporting Case for Sustainable Landscapes are written in clear language and include great overviews of landscape and ecological principles.

sites 2

At risk of introducing another rating tool, SITES seems to fit nicely between our current suite of green building and green infrastructure certification schemes. Even if you don’t follow the certification pathway there is some great intel in this one.

Front Yard Blitz #03 – Enter The Woonerf

Count up how many streets you know of where parents would let their kids play without supervision – and I mean play ON the street. How many did you get?

I got zero. The street where I live has about 30 houses in it, most of which have small children – there are about 20 kids under 12 in the street, yet they never play in the street simply because it isn’t safe. Despite our street being a poor connector and therefore having low traffic, motorists still hit 50km/h and don’t slow down even when there are pedestrians present or children riding their bikes on the footpaths.

This instalment of the Front Yard Blitz aims to reclaim the neighbourhood street as a shared space. The sheer amount of land area devoted purely to the car is obscene – research shows (this is a good paper – worth a read) that roughly 20%-25% of total urban land area is devoted to roads, and that doesn’t include car parks, car-related retail and facilities etc.

The Woonerf (Dutch translation as ‘living yard’) is a shared street designed to allow cars and pedestrians to co-exist. This is a ‘living street’ where pedestrians and cyclists have legal priority over motorists. In the UK they’re called ‘home zones’ and the US ‘complete streets’.


The concept is simple; a combination of street narrowing, traffic calming, landscaping, surface treatments, signage and place making all combine to make the street a ‘pedestrian zone where cars are permitted’, and for most of our suburban streets this can be easily achieved within the existing carriageway widths. And motorists must drive at walking speed.


The slowing down of cars is the key enabler – from this we open up huge tracts of area that can be put to better use. The US Federal Highway Administration has a good primer on Traffic Calming – this plan gives ideas on how a reduced street might be activated;

woonerf plan

If you’re dubious about the speed limit thing – check out a previous post that might put things in perspective.

By reconfiguring our streets we open up a number of opportunities, such as

  • reduced paved area and runoff, requiring less stormwater management and reducing heat island impacts
  • increased habitat
  • improved street appearance with more trees and gardens
  • increased socialisation and re-activated streets where children can play and families can congregate (also leading to improved passive surveillance and reduced crime)
  • reduced traffic noise
  • increased safety for pedestrians

The Woonerf only works for lower traffic streets, but amongst the various design elements and approaches lie solutions for all streets – it’s a matter of appropriate interventions to suit the street. A good case study is the Borderline Neighbourhood Living Street project – the 6 year $2.1M project was a big task but the multiple benefits extend all the way into a tighter and happier community.

So, we’ve managed to get the power lines underground, reduce most of our stormwater outflow, and now we’ve dealt with street widths and traffic which creates the maximum opportunities for what comes next.

Stay tuned.

Front Yard Blitz #02 – 10% Stormwater Runoff

So we’ve managed to get the overhead wires underground – what’s the next step in our green street refurbishment? There are a few options but it’s good practice to work from underground upwards, so let’s sort out our stormwater situation.

A few facts before we go on;

  • Rainwater = generally defined as ‘rain’ that has fallen but contains little or no dissolved matter or soil – so it’s generally what we can catch on roofs;
  • Stormwater = essentially rainwater that is running off over land, and the main source of downstream water pollution;
  • Sewage = from toilets and the like. In Australia the sewer and stormwater mains are required to be physically separated.

A typical residential neighbourhood will see around 55% of all of its rainfall leaving as stormwater runoff. In more built up urban areas it reaches up to 95%.  This runoff picks up contaminants along the way, sending everything to the nearest waterways. Two major problems here; loss of a valuable resource, and the downstream pollution (which can’t be fixed downstream).

Reducing our stormwater runoff to 10% (and you can aim even lower) requires a series of interventions, all of which add some value for homeowners (and I’ve chosen some dowdy images simply to demonstrate how easy some of the interventions can be);

Rainwater Harvesting – Adding a rainwater tank pulls out a certain amount of the total water flow – plumbing this back into landscape irrigation or toilet flushing saves you some water costs and adds value to your landscape (worth up to 10% of your home’s value). There are so many tank types around now that you could fit one almost anywhere. Keep using the water! This effectively increases the tank’s capacity.


Rain Gardens and Swales – rather than sending your excess rainwater off-site (and usually into the street gutters), slow it down and let it soak into the ground (more landscape benefits). Rain-gardens alone can strip out the majority of the stormwater runoff, and will take most of the pollutants out as well. When approached with design intent these gardens can become great additions to a landscape scheme – you might need help with ensuring that you don’t set up local flooding instead! (inlet-outlet invert levels etc.). Think of a ‘rain garden’ as a planted pond that only fills up during rain, and a ‘swale’ as a planted open spoon drain.


Street Rain Gardens – a great way to re-vegetate the public space and treat almost all of the stormwater. Check these out; rain garden retrofit and green streets for a cleaner harbour.

Soft Kerbs – ever watched all that stormwater running down the street in the gutters and wondering if there’s a better way? Soft kerbs can be suitable as part of the street rain garden retrofit, allowing stormwater an easier path into soft ground. This one requires considerations around traffic & safety and is typically only suited to local low-traffic streets, but streets with soft kerbs often have that something ‘special’ about them.

soft kerbs

These first two Blitz steps go hand-in-hand – removing the overhead wires allows us to get some serious planting into the street, and the stormwater bounty supports a much richer landscape.

Our next instalments will cover street trees and traffic calming.

Front Yard Blitz #1 – Undergrounding the Cables

I’ve had enough of these crazy backyard-renovation-blitz shows. Never do they pay attention to streetscape, neighbourhood, place making or community. They don’t create any legacy. So I’m running my own series right here – the Front Yard Blitz series.

The goal is to see how we might refurbish our suburban streets to become more resilient, more engaging, environmentally restorative and maybe even healthy for us.

This first instalment looks at the dog’s breakfast of overhead power cables lining most existing neighbourhood streets.

In 1838 Samuel Morse kicked off the telegraph revolution and still today we’re adding more junk to the very same infrastructure that was built for the telegraph. The reason we’re not witnessing a nation-wide project to put it all underground is mostly due to up-front cost.


For reasons that will become clear, getting the cables underground is perhaps the key enabler for this green street project. Besides the reduction in storm damage, reduced road deaths and bushfires, if we can get the cables underground it lets us proceed with a whole range of value-adds which we’ll explore as we go.

So the question is, ‘how much?’.

I’ve found a range of figures online for Australia, and the average cost per-household seems to be around $12,000. Of course this is based on a range of assumptions and conditions, and for the sake of argument let’s say $15,000 per household for a typical suburban neighbourhood with detached or semi-detached homes.

This might go up or down depending on what other works are being undertaken at the time, e.g. footpath or road resurfacing. Some utilities require you to pay the entire bill (e.g. Ausgrid) whilst others (e.g. Western Power in south-west Western Australia) might pay 25%. Local Councils will also usually chip in, sometimes up to 50%, and some State Governments also contribute up to 25%. Naturally I’m too time-pressed to research all of this across all of Australia, but the punchline seems to be that you’d be unlucky to have to pay the entire cost yourself.

In Perth the cost for the resident is down to around $4,500 thanks to the multi-agency contributions. I haven’t been able to determine whether or not this includes the cables from the street to the homes, so there may be some additional cost.

So would you pay $15,000 (assuming no funding support) just to get the cables underground? And what chance do you have of getting the majority of residents in your street to do the same (which is required before the project can proceed)?

An Australian National University study concluded that putting the powerlines underground can increase a home’s value by 3%, which is for example a $15,000 rise on a $500,000 property. ‘Money for jam’ as they say. Street presentation is one of the first selling points in real estate, so a street without all that junk in the air always stands a better chance.

In the next posts we’ll start to explore what is possible if we can remove the encumbrance of the overhead cables.

Information sources;

Green Streets for a Cleaner Harbour

Do you know which is the cleanest part of Sydney Harbour? I’m fortunate enough to get out onto the Harbour in a sea kayak on a regular basis. I know the clean parts and the dirty ones. I know where I can see the fish through the water, and where I can’t.

The correlation between the catchment area and the water quality is obvious and well documented – the more ‘nature’ there is in the catchment, the more the runoff is filtered before it reaches the Harbour.

I regularly post on ‘green streets’, and here’s another terrific source of case studies from the US, via the Montreal Urban Ecology Centre’s site. The main case study is Seattle’s Street Edge Alternatives project (SEA) where one neighbourhood street has been refurbished with bioswales, soil engineering and extensive landscaping. The aim of the project was to test ways in which runoff water quality could be improved so that local Salmon stocks could be protected.

seattle green street

photo: City of Seattle photo archives

The results speak for themselves. The streetscape is beautiful, full of vegetation and shade [reduced heat island effect], and 99% of the stormwater runoff now stays on site – pretty much as would have been the case pre-development. The water that does leave the site is clean.

The Urban Ecology site also provides a Google street map interactive so you can take a walk down the street and check out the detail. Apparently well loved by the residents and locals.

The price tag for this pilot project was some $850k US, which seems to be approximately $40k per dwelling. Assuming that this cost could be halved through improvements in the process and building from lessons learned, I’d be fascinated to understand what the payback for this might be. I’ve posted thoughts around this before so I won’t repeat here. Might make a good Masters for someone ; )

And the cleanest part of Sydney Harbour? The upper half of Middle Harbour wins hands down, and most of it is surrounded by State parks.