It’s easy to mock the national song by singing, “Our land is abounding in nature strips,” but you may not realize how true it is. In Melbourne, for instance, over a third (or more) of the public green space is made up of nature strips. This figure includes roundabouts as well as medians and green parts of the street.
This is a huge amount. It’s everywhere. The nature strip is everywhere.
Bylaws deny us many benefits.
Bylaws that restrict or prohibit gardening in nature strips are contrary to common sense. The benefits of street greenery are numerous, whether it is trees, shrubs, or lawns. This is a fact.
Street greenery is used by urban wildlife as habitat, food, and green corridors to move and for movement.
The lawns in nature strips are more than just turf grass, even for those who mow them. Based on my survey data, which I have yet to publish, almost 50 neighborhoods are home to over 150 plant species, confirming previous studies. These plants, such as the clovers and dandelion, are important pollinator resources.
One US study found that reducing the frequency of mowing to three times a week increased the flowering in a lawn by 250%. Bees and butterflies will benefit from less mowing.
A recent unpublished survey by the author, along with his colleagues, found that gardening in nature strips adds native plants and biodiversity to the streetscape. It also adds structural complexity (more layers, more types, etc.), which is essential for many species.
The more diverse the plantings are, the more benefits the nature strip will provide. TEDx Melbourne/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
Street Greenery filters out pollutants and recharges aquifers, making rivers healthier. It helps cool streets and counters the urban heat-island effect. It promotes a community spirit, encourages walking, and reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Read more: Increasing Tree Cover May Be Like a ‘Superfood’ for Community Mental Health.
But councils tend to be risk-averse. They worry they will be sued if someone trips on the ground cover or stubs their toe on an out-of-place garden gnome.
This risk aversion, however, is not universal. The City of Vincent, in Western Australia, is so eager for residents to switch to water-wise plantings they will remove the turf and replace it with native plants.
As climate change approaches, we shouldn’t be too concerned about stubbed feet. We must instead urgently reshape our cities and culture to be resilient and sustainable.
Read more: If planners understand it’s cool to green cities, what’s stopping them?
Gardening becomes a neighborly act.
It is a great thing that neighbors are more likely to garden in nature strips if they do. It’s contagious. A positive feedback loop creates a greener neighborhood.
Residents who garden along the nature strip report a higher sense of community compared to those who do not.
A well-designed, full-coverage street garden that allows pedestrians to access cars while using native plants. Adrian Marshall CC-BY-4.0, Author provided
It is interesting to note that the benefits of nature strips are not equally distributed throughout the city. In newer neighborhoods, for example, there is more nature strip (even though the trees are younger). The nature strip is more commonly planted on minor roads compared to major highways and in neighborhoods with higher social status.
Nearly a quarter (25%) of Melbourne’s residential properties have some form of nature strip gardening. We could achieve more greening of our streets with less cost for councils that are cash-strapped. This would also relieve many residents from their frustration of being forced to mow the nature strip but not allowed to do more.
The many small actions taken by residents can make a significant difference.