Designing for a Changing Climate: Learning from Melbourne – Heather Claridge

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Heather Claridge is a Principal Design Officer at Architecture and Design Scotland. In 2018 she won the RTPI’s Young Planner of the Year Award  and was given the opportunity to undertake a study trip to Melbourne thanks to a donation from The Julie Cowans Memorial Trust and support from the RTPI and Places for People. Read about her findings and experiences on urban adaptation down under 


Greening the Grey  

In central Melbourne, public spaces, streets, lanes and buildings have been planted up to cool the urban environment and manage surface water.  With temperatures reaching up to 7 degrees celsius higher than the rest of the city, the central area has had to green its hard surfaces to directly address the ‘urban heat island effect’ and in turn help maintain city liveability 

The City has also set a goal to double its street tree canopy by 2040 and a ‘street by street’ approach to planting is being taken. Sadly, many of Melbourne’s indigenous tree species are not well suited to the city’s shifting climate. Melbourne’s Authority has been working with the local Universities to identify appropriate tree types for future conditions.   

Urban tactics are being deployed to incrementally increase the City’s open space provision. With only a quarter of the land in the city owned by the City of Melbourne, it has had to reclaim road infrastructure, where possible, for greening. Two great examples of this are in the north-west of the city – Gardiner Reserve and Railway and Miller Street Reserve. These pockets parks are helping to cool the area, offer shade and surface water drainage as well as serving as fun, play and social spaces in Melbourne’s dense inner city.   

Involving the Community  

The transformation from grey to green has also extended to Melbourne’s network of laneways, well known for their street art, cultural and cafe uses. The potential of the lanes for climate adaptation was identified in the ‘Green Our City Strategy’ and following this, the public were invited to nominate places for climate conscious interventions. Over 800 nominations were received, and four lanes selected – Katherine Place, Meyers Place, Guildford Lane, and Coromandel Place. Visiting Meyers Place and Guildford Lane, the shift from hard surfaces to include living walls, street trees and community managed planters, is impressive. 

Funding Action  

The City has similarly been innovative in how it has funded projects. The Urban Forest Fund uses the fees collected from unavoidable public tree removals to provide grants for green community/entrepreneurial projects. Through this, financial support has been provided to many projects including an urban farm on a rooftop and a laneway on the university campus which is testing grape vines for urban cooling potential. This approach is a creative way of enabling others in the third and private sector to play their part in designing for a changing climate.  

Managing surface water is also a key priority for Melbourne’s city centre and its green features. Through Melbourne’s Total Watermark Strategy, a target has been set to make over 20% of each water catchment permeable. There was an obvious celebration of water in the city through the addition of signage and interpretation boards at water features. The City has also established a series of self-guided urban water walks to share understanding on the journey of water through the city.   

Final Reflections  

Overall, the City of Melbourne is using clever tactics to deliver a greener city for the changing climate and to ensure that the quality of life of its citizens is not significantly eroded. It is incrementally planting up the grey and supporting lower carbon lifestyles in its emerging urban regeneration areas. The officers responsible for delivering the projects and targets had a really strong appreciation of the intrinsic link between climate action and urban liveability and it was inspiring to gain insight from them. Through visiting examples of places which are being futureproofed against a changing climate, I started to picture how Scotland’s urban areas could scale climate action working with public, private, community and further education sectors. 

Since my visit in November 2019, Australia and parts of Melbourne have been devasted by wildfires, caused by the shifting climate. This is a grave reminder of the need to retrofit our urban environments at pace to ensure we protect, as well as maintain current and future lives.  


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