Can a dying tree save a city?

A major new conference called ‘Rethinking the Urban Forest’ is being convened this Friday in Marrickville at the Addison Road Community Centre. It will look how we can create a greener, better city for living creatures of all kinds, ourselves included.

The origins for the ‘Rethinking the Urban Forest’ spring from the story of one dying Sydney blue gum tree – and how fighting to preserve this tree has helped provide a habitat and home for birdlife, lizards, insects and microbats, many of whom are under increasing duress and threat as the city grows ever bigger and denser. It’s a situation not so different from a more human story as people try to hold on to, or find a home of any kind for themselves in Sydney. Nature’s problems and ours are not so far apart.

Addison Road Community Centre Organisation are the force behind the Rethinking the Urban Forest conference. On its grounds, right by the main carpark, stands the old Sydney blue gum that inspired them. Rather than cut it down, Addi Road worked with an arborist and Inner West Council to lop off any branches that might drop, or cause the dying tree itself to become dangerous and topple over.

Hollows were then cut into the tree, along with those that had naturally formed (this can take more than a 100 years), creating a much-needed home for birdlife and myriad other creatures. The tree is now a showpiece for visiting school children interested in studying habitats that allow living things to survive the city.

It was this experience with old Sydney blue gum and its newly created hollows that awakened an even greater awareness of the role of tree management in the local area. Addison Road Community Centre Organisation has almost 170 trees on its grounds, making tree maintenance a major activity for the Centre along with its evolving social justice, arts and broader environmental activities.

Addi Road’s experience with its trees, and the Sydney blue gum especially, raised fresh questions about what is called ‘the urban forest’, which does everything from support bird life to absorb pollution and keep us cool in summer, enhancing our health and happiness along the way. The more built up our urban environment becomes, the more critical it is we increase the numbers of trees and green spaces around us. We are part a natural community we don’t always see or fully understand, and how we treat it affects us in return. Effectively, this is what the conference is all about.

Rethinking the Urban Forest is being described as a “cross-disciplinary” and acclaimed as “innovative” and “visionary”. It has over 30 delegates and nearly 160 participants, gathering together arborists, politicians, architects, ecologists, lawyers, urban planners and decision makers for the first time ever in Australia. Ideas and models for action stemming from its panels and presentations could affect urban planning locally and nationally for a long time to come.

As part of the event, Addison Road Community Centre Organisation are publishing a children’s book called ‘The Hollow Tree’. It tells the story of our Sydney blue gum – and features drawings done over the last year by school children who observed the birds, lizards, insects and microbats who made it a home. The Rethinking the Urban Forest conference will host the book launch (open to the public) for The Hollow Tree this Friday May 24th at 11am at Addison Road Community Centre.