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Valuing Sydney’s urban forest

Report found that without sufficient ‘green infrastructure’ Sydney would be hotter, more polluted and could be worth $50bn less


Aecom found that the loss of tree canopy increases the
Aecom found that the loss of tree canopy increases the

Increased leaf canopy cover is linked to a significant increase in property values in Australia, a new study suggests.


The value a city derives from its urban trees is difficult to measure due to the disconnect between the beneficiaries and the direct costs borne by the councils, utilities and road authorities who manage them according to Green infrastructure: a vital step to brilliant Australian cities. But the report, released by integrated infrastructure firm Aecom, calls on cities to regard them as “essential infrastructure”.


The urban data analytics undertaken across three different suburbs in Sydney found that for every 10 per cent increase in the canopy coverage within the street corridor, the value of properties increased by an average of $50,000 across the suburbs of Annandale ($60,761), Blacktown ($55,000) and Willoughby ($33,152).


Report co-author and Aecom Australia & New Zealand, cities leader, James Rosenwax, said population growth in Sydney had placed enormous pressure on existing critical infrastructure like roads and utilities, but trees were often forgotten or undervalued.


“If we don’t put a financial value on trees, there is less incentive to protect them when looking at the cost benefits of new roads, bridges or buildings,” he said. "Unfortunately, the humble street tree is often in conflict with other forms of infrastructure and development."


“Our report found that without sufficient ‘green infrastructure’ Sydney would be hotter, more polluted and could be worth $50bn less.”


Following one of Sydney’s hottest summers on records, the research also looked at the temperature benefits of tree canopy cover in Sydney’s inner west suburb or Annandale. It found air temperature was four degrees Celsius lower in streets with 28 per cent canopy coverage than in streets with 20 per cent coverage. The surface temperature of concrete and asphalt was also at least 14 degrees cooler in the shade.


“We found the loss of tree canopy significantly increases the heat island effect, removes vital air pollution filtering and exposes our drainage system to increased volumes of water during heavy rainfall events,” said Roger Swinbourne, report author and director, urban systems advisory, Aecom.


“Grey and green infrastructure need to co-exist wherever possible, especially as temperatures in our cities rise along with the frequency of storm water events.”


The report identified six steps to success:

  1. Account for the financial value of trees
  2. Reassess funding for green infrastructure maintenance
  3. Bundle and relocate power lines where possible
  4. Create a master plan for a greener more liveable city
  5. Update green infrastructure regulations to solve the disconnect between green goals and the way cities work
  6. Apply smart management to green projects utilising new planting techniques, careful selection of species and engage residents.


The report also found current Australian regulations and business models focus on minimising risks and do not encourage transport authorities, energy companies, councils, developers and residents to recognise street trees as essential infrastructure or consider the financial cost of removing them.


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