Planning to protect the natural and social amenity of our neighbourhoods
Here we are, at the backend of an El Niño summer. At least, that’s what we’ve been told. While it’s certainly been a scorcher elsewhere, we’ve had regular bursts of cooling rain that has kept the subsoil moist and the lawn mowers active. But how long has the Leafy East got before the only trees are along the nature strip?
This summer has been a nature wonderland for us here in Kew. It started with a pair of tawny frogmouths rearing their offspring in the peppermint gum right outside our sunroom window. They nest somewhere nearby most years and hang around our yard till the young’un if fully fledged.
The wet early summer has brought an abundance of insect life. (Some welcome, some not so welcome) We’ve even had an orange winged butterfly that I haven’t noticed before. It has a furry moth like head and body and can’t seem to make up its mind if it’s a moth or a butterfly when it settles, but they’re mainly open. And returning ladybirds and miniature spiders to the garden is a regular part of preparing the leafy greens and herbs for cooking.
Then there was the dance of the cabbage moths. I know; not everyone took a romantic view of these mothers of the green brassica eating grubs, but you have to admit; it was pretty spectacular to see them in such numbers. And there’s plenty of organic sprays around to minimize their impact on the kale.
Recently we’ve had a ringtail possum sleeping on the sunroom window ledge amongst the bells-of-summer vine that shades the area. Our family have deliberated over the possible reason she/he has abandoned his/her usual abode in the roadside melaleuca. At this stage, a matrimonial breakdown is the clubhouse leader. Maybe it’s a summer thing. You’d imagine those stick nest would be stifling even in the mildest of summers.
Right now the spiders are dominant. Everywhere you look there’re spider webs harvesting the smorgasbord of insects the benign season has brought. We’ve got an orb spider near the back door whose engineering skills are nothing short of incredible. As the warmth of summer gives way to autumn, they’ll get a hammering from the paper wasps that build under our eaves. It’s an annual realignment, eh?
While this embrace of nature feeds the soul, it has to be asked: how long can it last? Maggie and I aren’t doddering, but we’ve accepted our dotage. No one with the money to buy a house in Kew is going to accept a 140-year-old Federation weatherboard with one, albeit renovated, bathroom and no lock-up car space. One by one, the old free-standing homes will be dropped, the trees removed, and the natural habitat concreted over. These remnant natural worlds will be replaced by two storeys piles of air-conditioned space.
With no open ground to sponge up the rain, the flood of urban detritus flushed down into The Yarra will surge, carrying with it the urban chemical residue that this year made half the beaches of Port Phillip too polluted for swimming.
It doesn’t have to be like this; nor should it. Somewhere, say 20 years or so ago, municipal planning, based on ecological outcomes rather than rateable value, would have given us by now, exceptionally liveable suburbs. The irony is, land prices are based on their amenity, and a suburb where birds wake you in the morning, the houses aren’t heat banks, and everywhere you walk or ride a bike is shaded would be just as rateable as the ecological timebomb we’re building for ourselves today.