Tuesday 5 March 2019


The summer heat is unbearable and you can’t stand to be in the sun. You love the cool of the shade under a tree with a dense canopy of green leaves. And yet our Council has been chopping down mature shade trees on roadsides and in parks.

It’s not just the culturally important scar tree in Dovedale that was so important to local Aboriginal People.

Remember the blue quandong which used to shade the corner of Victoria and Prince Streets next to the Council building? It was removed and replaced with a low-set garden that provides no shade at all to pedestrians. In the absence of any shade, that section of footpath is now unpleasantly glary and hot – a sharp contrast to the opposite corner with the big old white fig. 

Plants under heat stress where the Blue Quandong used to be

Elsewhere along Prince St, trees have been removed with the excuse of improving drivers’ ability to see pedestrians about to cross the road, but without considering the amenity of the main street. And ignoring the fact that most of the trees that were removed didn’t actually block drivers’ sightlines of pedestrians. 

Bare garden area in Prince Street where shady lillypillies used to grow.

Beyond the older streets in our towns, newer subdivisions are going in without any street trees. Extensive areas of established suburbs such as Westlawn, Townsend and South Grafton Hill also lack any substantial trees.

Street trees are a vital part of cool-scaping our towns, to remove the urban heat-island effect. This effect is due to the concrete, bitumen and other built surfaces re-radiating the sun’s heat, and has been quantified in Sydney, where morning summer surface temperatures in treeless urban areas are on average 12.8°C higher than treed non-urban areas. But we’d need more than a few jacarandas: it would take a 14% tree cover to completely offset thermal loading of urban materials.

Trees and outdoor infrastructure (such as shelters, public swimming pools, community gardens) all contribute to reduce the heat. They should be priorities for Council’s investment, not chainsaws and demolition crews.

Without them, people are being driven to air-conditioned indoor spaces and household energy bills soar.

            - Janet Cavanaugh

 This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on February 4, 2019.