Researchers at Murdoch University released a study earlier this year highlighting how green inner-city infrastructure, such as parks, could improve public health and increase longevity.
The article, published in international journal Land, found connecting people with nature could reduce anxiety, stress, depression, obesity and could improve cardiovascular health.
“An increase in urban greenery has also been found, in some instances, to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour,” Murdoch University Harry Butler Institute Associate Researcher Jackie Parker said.
“Trees and urban green spaces provide people with tangible and intangible benefits that cannot be substituted by other infrastructure in the built environment.
“Properties on tree-lined streets attract a higher market price, with many estimates putting that premium at around four to five per cent.”
Ms Parker said urban greenery would increase the opportunity for residents to experience nature, better control microclimates, improve air quality and provide a happier and healthier suburb.
Fellow Murdoch University Harry Butler Institute Associate Researcher Greg Simpson outlined the modern ways to turn established suburbs more sustainable.
“Incorporating or retrofitting green skins in the form of living green walls and planted roofs as part of the design of apartment buildings, offices and multi-storey car parks,” he said.
“Not cutting down trees and converting bushland within the urban fringe into buildings and roads is definitely the best option for realising the benefits provided by green infrastructure.”
Ms Parker said Perth had great examples of green infrastructure, however many developers were guilty of destroying the natural environment.
“Many developments meet the bare minimum landscaping requirements, which is reflective of the weaknesses in current Western Australian planning legislation and town planning schemes,” she said.
“Very limited controls exist to protect vegetation and trees, which can account for a large percentage of canopy cover loss across the Perth metropolitan area.”
Arguing the other side, Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) WA CEO Tanya Steinbeck said densified living could free up more space at street level for open spaces and tree retention.
“This is a blanket statement that ignores some of the quality development in a range of areas in the Perth metropolitan region that we have seen in recent years,” she said.
“The delivery of medium and high-density housing, particularly in infill areas, has long been the topic of controversy due to some of the poorer outcomes we have seen in the past.”
Ms Parker said the outer fringes of Perth needed serious attention.
“Areas in need of intense attention include land that has been clear felled with only modest new trees and vegetation planted in lieu,” she said.
“The northern and southern fringes of Perth’s urban sprawl will take decades to provide the social, environmental and ecological benefits of what was once there.”
Ms Steinbeck said it was important to focus on the positive examples, as Perth’s growth meant there was a need to densify living to support the growing population.
“Density is not a dirty word, density done well can improve the diversity of housing options that we can deliver to our communities to ensure different lifestyles and budgets are accommodated for in the areas that people want to live,” she said.
“UDIA WA supports quality urban design, the delivery of new communities and the revitalisation of existing areas that provides residents with access to useful public open spaces, walkable catchments and good connectivity.”
Ms Parker said it was not all doom and gloom in Perth, with some inner-city suburbs possessing sufficient natural spaces.
“There are examples in Perth where quality developments have occurred and continue to occur such as green infrastructure, renewable energy options, sustainable material choices and solar passive design,” she said. “One Perth suburb that always comes to mind is Applecross.”
Ms Parker said environmental efforts needed government support to increase their presence as we entered unprecedented climate conditions.
“Warming climates, more unpredictable weather events, urban heat island and declining human health trends all need to be reversed for continued urban habitation,” she said.
Ms Steinbeck agreed and said clear policy guidance would result in better outcomes for local communities, including greater tree retention, access to green spaces and natural light.
“It is important to understand that there are many fantastic examples of density done well, and many places where quality infill projects added immensely to the local area in respect to housing choice, vibrancy and amenity,” she said.