Our best options, stolen.
It is not only hundreds of trees that are being stolen due to this NSW government's unwillingness to design a Light Rail that builds around our trees instead. What is also being stolen is the option to comfortably travel by foot around our city - to take relief under the shade these trees provide with their large canopies (many of which have taken almost a century to grow), or to find joy in locating the source of a birdsong as it emanates from the highest branches. Right here, right now, we have some of the most enjoyable tree-lined walking and cycling routes in our city.
I use the word 'stolen' not in an effort to be dramatic, but because it is most fitting. Something is stolen if it is taken without permission. This government did not ask for our permission to remove our highly valued heritage trees - permanently. They don't even want it. And whether or not they intend to 'return' what is taken, the fact remains that they can't. Once a life is taken, nobody can bring it back.
Below: Urb-i, a Brazilian urban planning collective, have collated positive public space transformations using Google maps.
A growing number of other cities around the world realise that a sustainable future means liveable cities that put pedestrians and cyclists first. And they aren’t waiting. They're making places for people now. In many cases they are doing this by choosing to designate sections of existing road space to pedestrians & bicycles instead of cars. But when we met with Bruce Notley-Smith last week and urban ecologist Dr Jane Tarran explained that there was a potential ‘win-win’ for this Light Rail, trees & people, he “did not agree”. Jane explained that we should choose to better utilise existing road space for public transport now (it is a public asset after all), since there will be no choice but to do this later anyway.
Notley-Smith however tried to argue that while that was one way of doing things, the other is how his government is doing it, which he believes gives people ‘more options’ and ‘choices’. It’s not too hard to name the elephant in the room though is it?
It doesn’t make sense to say you’re giving people ‘more options’ when you simultaneously deny them the best and most accessible option of all - walking.
Our expert researcher Jane tried to tell our local member Notley-Smith that the approved unshaded replacement paths along Wansey Rd and Alison Rd were “just asking for trouble” in a climate change impacted world. Students for example, who now have the option to enjoy a cool, shaded, tree-lined route
from the UNSW Institute of Languages to main campus, would risk suffering heat exhaustion or worse if these plans do not change. They would actually have no choice but to catch the Light Rail one or two stops up the road. The option to enjoy a pleasant stroll and to spend much-needed daily time amongst nature will have been stolen from them. Notley-Smith, again, “did not agree”, saying that people are “sun-smart”, but unfortunately that doesn't solve the heat issue, nor does it address our physical & psychological need to have regular contact with nature. And for any of you who may have felt some resistance to the proposition that we should re-designate road space, think of it this way - you aren’t losing the option to drive from A to B if several hundreds of metres of one car lane is made unavailable
Jane explained it is much wiser to dedicate existing roadspace to the Light Rail, e.g. along Alison Rd, instead of removing so many established trees.
Our local member, who is supposed to be representing us, thinks people are over-reacting. He wants us to stop voicing our concerns so that they can just “get it done”. Unfortunately, since he has been unwilling to meaningfully engage with many real people who really are going to be adversely impacted, he has created caricatures in his mind. For example, he thinks that there are people who are "anti-Light Rail" that will be "kept happy" by the retention of existing road space for cars, even if that comes at the cost of trees and green space. I quickly begged to differ. All the people I have met who think they are "anti-Light Rail" (which actually means anti-this Light Rail most of the time), are also devastated by the prospect of losing so many of our trees and parklands.
So why should all of us have so much stolen from us?
Liveable cities privilege pedestrians, cyclists, large trees and green space - not cars. This is expert knowledge informed by extensive research, not an ‘opinion’ with which to “agree” or “disagree”. It's just how it is.
As population densities increase, it becomes more and more impractical and inefficient to travel by car.
What else did we learn from our latest meeting?
- Notley-Smith will advocate for some of the small changes that we know are readily available to the project (numbers 1, 2 & 3 detailed here).
- He thinks that the only option for the Centennial Park section is the latest design that requires the removal of 50 trees (that were not going to be removed initially, before planning approval was given).
- There is probably no arborist working with the design team to ensure that enough space is left for ‘replacement’ trees (of great concern to Jane since oftentimes without an arborist working through the design there will end up not being enough space to plant large trees, even if they are promised). He is going to bring this up in his next meeting with the Transport Minister and get back to us about this.
- Apparently TfNSW & ALTRAC are trying to make the High St alternative interchange proposal work, but he was unclear about whether or not this would avoid impacts to High Cross Park. *
- Apparently we can't be told which trees are being 'saved' because the designs are changing all the time (which means they might not be 'saved' after all, but also that nothing is set in stone).
Wansey Rd, Randwick shared pedestrian & cycleway.
* On Thursday 17th September there was an announcement confirming that High Cross Park will no longer be the site for the interchange.