Addressing the urban challenge

Breadth of the issue – How are the problem(s) that are being tackled by your initiative affecting citizens/local businesses or a significant component of the local wildlife?

As Sunvale’s landscape matures, it will increase its capacity to cool the surrounding area and support liveability. The increased wellbeing, surface temperature reduction and water retention attributes of the park affect citizens, businesses and wildlife in a positive way and make the area more resilient to the devastating impacts of heatwaves.

There’s a growing body of evidence to the many and varied benefits to green cover in our cities: they help clean the air, make us happier, healthier and more productive. Other studies have confirmed that living near green space can make us sleep better and even improve children’s intelligence and behaviour – despite socioeconomic determinants like wealth and education of parents. Green cover can even influence the price of your home and make for safer neighbourhoods.

Trees and shrubs help to combat rising temperatures and other climate change impacts. A tried and tested strategy is the introduction of more trees and green roofs in urban spaces, reducing surface temperatures by up to 40 per cent.

Urban birds such as Honeyeaters, Magpies, Swallows are now establishing themselves at this reserve and raptors such as the Little Falcon, are now seen regularly flying over this park on their daily flight paths.

As new townhouse development is nearing completion alongside Sunvale and these residents will move into townhouse that front this reserve. This will provide those living in such circumstance all of the above benefits while users of the reserve will benefit from passive surveillance which supports positive perceptions of safety.

Depth of the issue – How seriously are the problems being tackled by your initiative impacting the life of the citizens/businesses/wildlife concerned?

The bushfires that occurred in the hills surround Melbourne in 2009 directly claimed the lives of 173 people in Melbourne, with an additional 374 people dying in the heatwave leading to the bushfire. Many of these people lived in the north and west of Melbourne and one reason attributed to this death rate is the lack of tree canopy cover.

Council is an active member of Greening The West (GTW) initiative which is a partnership of local governments in the west of Melbourne partnering to collectively increase tree canopy cover, biodiversity and water sensitive urban design to support liveability and deal with the impacts of heatwaves.

Sunvale is a demonstration of how parks can delivery on all three GTW objectives by reinventing public space and/or infrastructure with natural systems that support humans, fauna and flora.

Greener Spaces Better Places has also given Brimbank a “Challenge Rating” of VERY HIGH, based on Brimbank’s baseline of green cover and growth momentum. This means that over the next decade, Brimbank will face very high challenges to maintain or grow green cover (Where Will All the Trees Be? p.13, 2020).

The power of plants and natural ecosystems to deliver benefits

How is the initiative shaped by scientific evidence of the potential for plants and natural ecosystems to deliver benefits?

Australian bushfires in 2009 directly claimed the lives of 173 people in Melbourne, with an additional 374 people dying in the heatwave leading to the bushfire. Many of these people lived in the north and west of Melbourne and one reason attributed to this death rate is the lack of tree canopy cover.
Sunvale Community Park has an integrated blue/green infrastructure system that treats stormwater water from surrounding streets and an adjacent townhouse development. All the stormwater is directed to raingardens, treated and then stored underground in a 100,000-litre tank. This water is used for irrigation and to keep the park cool during heatwaves. Council can turn the irrigation before or during a heatwave to create a cool park.

This approach to designing parks that are green and cool forms part of a Council initiative called Oasis Parks where plants and water are integrated to create places of biodiversity and refuge for people and nature.

Council has also planted plants from warmer climates north of Melbourne such as Morton Bay Figs which are expected to grow well as the climate changes in Melbourne during this century. The tree canopy cover is expected at Sunvale to be at least 60% which exceeds Council’s Urban Forest Strategy that seeks a 30% canopy cover overall across Brimbank.

Plants are a vital component of the design of Sunvale as per the following breakdown:

101 advanced trees
9,000 smaller trees, palms, ferns, shrugs, groundcovers
725 raingarden plants

How has the city exploited the potential of plants and associated ecosystems to deliver more than one benefit?

As part of the community consultation, there was a strong desire for a Botanical Garden experience. The planting palette and design have sought to create this experience through a selection of indigenous, native and exotic plants. The following benefits will increasing develop overtime as the blue/green infrastructure evolves at Sunvale:

Raingarden plants will filter and clean stormwater and provide habitat and food for urban birds and insects. Frogs are expected to be attracted to the raingardens over time. The vegetation in all raingardens is indigenous to the local area
The expected 60-70% canopy cover will increase habitat and food supply for urban birds and insects while providing heatwave mitigation and supporting the physical and mental well-being of the local community through increased connection to nature
Trees and plants have been chosen based on their water requirements. Some areas are not irrigated and in these areas native trees/shrubs have been selected
A community orchard and herb garden provides ongoing urban harvesting for the local community
Existing mature trees were retained to ensure no loss of existing ecosystem functions while a large eucalypt that was dying and considered dangerous has had its canopy removed but large limbs were kept to provide hollow nesting opportunities for birds and also perching opportunities for raptors.

Innovative and Collaborative Solution

How does the initiative show evidence of feasibility, including on-going financial and logistical support?

Sunvale Community Park is classified as a Flagship Park in Council’s Creating Better Parks Policy and Plan and therefore receives the highest levels of maintenance. Operational staff from Parks Services and Building Maintenance attend the site weekly to ensure that it is clean, safe and well maintained.

In what ways is the initiative innovative?

Council’s Creating Better Parks Policy and Plan recommended that the disused school be purchased for open space. When the State government announced, they were going to sell the vacant land, Council and the community advocated together with Council succeeded in buying two thirds of the disused site.

From this Council created a visionary master plan that incorporated all community ideas and were able to use this masterplan to advocate for funding from the State government. This was successful and resulted in around $3.6M funding from the State to implement the whole masterplan.

The design of Sunvale sought to ensure that the park caters for multiple and diverse users and the expected increase in housing density for the Sunshine Priority Precinct. As a Flagship Park and Oasis Park, Sunvale has functions that cater for:

Heatwave mitigation
Sustainable water supply
Biodiverse urban forest supporting people, flora and fauna
First Nation People art
Walking and cycling
Formal and natural play
Day and night time events
Picnics and BBQ
Outdoor gym
Cricket, AFL and soccer
Community orchard and herb garden

Sunvale has been restructured to ensure that the connection to the local community that started with the primary school now continues as a key public realm destination for the local community to meet, be active and to assist in the liveability of Sunshine.

How is the initiative supported by collaborative working across disciplines and sectors?

Brimbank City Councils Urban Design Department lead the development of the masterplan (co-funded by the State of Victoria), design and construction for this park. This project required the involvement of many other professionals to ensure quality outcomes were achieved. Within Council the following professionals were involved:

Civil and Traffic Engineers assisted in pavement and traffic issues
Arts & Culture Coordinator assisted in the delivery of Five Elements sculptors by local First Nation People
Parks Services staff were engaged around plant selection and assessment of existing trees
Playground and Street Furniture Coordinator for feedback of proposed play facilities, shelters and toilets
Media and Communications Coordinator to support community engagement and social media messaging

The following external professionals were engaged:

E2Design were engaged to design the stormwater harvesting system
An architect was engaged to assist in sketch design of the central shelter
CONVIC were engaged to design the skate facility and to engage with local youth/skaters in designing the skate space
Mandi Barton and Lee-Anne Clarke (local First Nation People artists) developed the concept for The Five Elements and partnered with Djprojects to construct and install the five pieces
Make It Wet were engaged to prepared irrigation plans
Play DMC were engaged to conduct a safety audit of all play equipment

How does the initiative demonstrate evidence of community support?          

Sunvale Community Park has been recognised as a great exemplar of a contemporary park winning two state and one national industry awards for Park of The Year in 2020 from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and from Parks and Leisure Australia.

Sunvale Community Park was chosen as a site to conduct an interview with Adrian Gray, Chair of Greening The West and Manager of Urban Design at Brimbank City Council to discuss the role that nature play has for children. Sunvale has natural play elements that include plants, logs, water, rocks, sand and musical objects.

The Sunshine Library conducts reading events in the park with the local community and during National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week, events and discussions have taken place at Sunvale linked to the indigenous sculptural pieces designed by local First Nations People title, The Five Elements.

Implementation, Impact and Replicability

How does the initiative demonstrate evidence of a track record of success against pursued objectives?          

At the opening of Sunvale, a key community member who advocated for this school to become a park and who was very passionate about the community having a say in how the park should be developed, gave a speech. He mentioned that he had never seen the wishes of the community included as extensively as the master plan for Sunvale envisioned. He congratulated Council and Council staff from the Urban Design Department who led the community engagement, master planning, and design and construction phases for this project.

Sunvale Community Park has been embraced by the local community as is in constant use. During COVID-19 restrictions, it became a hub and activity allowing the community to engage in a myriad of exercise activities or just enjoy spending time in a green space. This park contributed to the resilience of the local community in dealing with the many lockdowns associated with COVID -19.

How has the initiative had a ripple effect beyond the scope of the initiative itself, thereby demonstrating a change in the city’s and/or its partners’ way of working with plants?

Given the VERY HIGH challenge ranking for Brimbank, Greener Spaces Better Place has celebrated and featured Brimbanks’ positive collaboration with their community to deliver Sunvale Community Park in Brimbank (VIC), featuring this initiative in Where Will All the Trees Be? p.65, 2020, showcasing this model nationally.

Sunvale Community Park was the first passive park to install integrated blue/green infrastructure.
Since then, Council has adopted an approach to key parks where they are treated as Oasis Parks. This approach is underpinned by assessing a park’s current and future functionality and the potential for using nearby stormwater.

Council has an Integrated Water Management Team (IWMT) that oversees this approach with staff from Engineering, Environment, Urban Design, Assets and Parks. The most recent example of this is the Dempster Park Oasis Upgrade where a blue/green infrastructure system has been installed to treat and harvest local stormwater with the capacity to store 1,000,000 litres of water underground. Sunvale stores 100,000litre.]

Council’s IWMT was successful in obtaining $2,000,000 from Melbourne Water and Greater Western Water to fund and deliver Dempster Park project. Brimbank City Council is leading the way in retrofitting parks with blue/green infrastructure to ensure parks are green, cool and functional as the climate warms into this century.

How have other cities expressed interest in the initiative, or what potential does it have to interest other cities and be customised to their own circumstances?

In seeking to make parks sustainable and resilient and to utilise stormwater to make cities more liveable, Sunvale Community Park offers a model for how to achieve this, especially disused 20th century public infrastructure.

From a local government perspective, its vital do have the appropriate design professionals, such as landscape architects delivering policy documents that seek to create quality park/public spaces that deal with climatic and cultural issues on the 21st century. In the 20th century it was given that engineers were embedded in local governments. For the 21st century landscape architect and urban design should be the norm to ensure natural systems are embedded in the way a city functions.

When public assets like schools become obsolete, the state government should not dispose of land to the private sector but assist local governments in repurposing’s these sites for community benefit and for reintroduction of natural systems into cities.

Integrated blue/green infrastructure can ensure that parks become a network of green places that mitigate heatwaves, minimise flooding, create ‘Soak Cities’ and to develop ecological based infrastructure for the well-being of people, plants and associated fauna.

To start the transformation of old public infrastructure, it’s important to start with the community and to use their ideas in creating the vision. Sunvale Community Park has successfully achieved this with the incorporation of over 250 ideas.

Sustainability and Resilience

What efforts have been made to reduce the carbon footprint of the initiative?

The blue-green infrastructure methodology used within the park consists of natural and semi-natural systems implemented to mitigate climate change impacts in urban areas, including elevated air temperatures and flooding.

Designed as a walkable/cyclable precinct, the park has been designed as an active/low carbon transport area. The design of Sunvale encourages people to walk or cycle to this park and it is located near Sunshine Station so that children from across the municipality can catch a train to Sunshine then ride, walk, skate or scoot to Sunvale Community Park to meet up.

With the expected increase in population density of Sunshine, Sunvale will offer a great place for the local community so that they don’t need to drive to another park as all their needs can meet at this fantastic park.

Whilst concrete and other hard materials have been used they have been designed for durability to avoid a short lifespan which assists in minimising the future carbon footprint of Council.

How have the anticipated impacts of climate change been considered?

Climate change impacts include increased bushfire and heatwave events in many parts of Australia. Taking this into consideration was very important to the Council and the community and was reflected strongly in the community engagement process. As such, the blue-green infrastructure was implemented to mitigate climate change impacts such as elevated air temperatures, flooding and increased bushfire events. The blue-green infrastructure includes raingardens and biofiltration ponds to ensure access to high-quality water for irrigating the diverse plants.

The raingarden system was funded wholly by Melbourne Water, a state level water authority, who provides funds for local governments to deliver water sensitive urban design infrastructure that manages stormwater treatment at the source and for reuse thus decreasing reliance on potable water.

Tree canopy cover will reach 60% overtime which is double that of Council’s overall Urban Forest Strategy aim which seeks 30% canopy cover across the municipality. Parks are sites where tree canopy can be maximised, and Council is committed to delivering this level of canopy cover in all parks across the municipality through the implementation the Urban Forest Strategy. The irrigation system will support the establishment of a robust and diverse urban forest, without reliance on potable water.

Additionally, community gardens were planted in an edible garden walk with figs, olives, pomegranate, herbs, lily pilly and chocolate lilies amongst other plants available for community harvest. This increases community engagement with urban agriculture and localised food systems – key to developing climate resilient communities.

What processes does the initiative include for it to be considerate in its use of soils and other natural resources?

Sunvale has been designed to capture, treat and store stormwater for use as irrigation. The irrigation system is subsurface, so this reduces evaporation, and it operates overnight.
A water play feature has been installed that required users to engage with various play objects to pump water into the space. This uses potable water and all the water used drains into the raingarden system and storage for reuse in irrigation.

All the plants chosen are plants that are adaptable to the local clay soils. The only imported soils were used in the raingardens which require free draining material and plants that grow in this type of soil profile.

All shelters and hard surfaces have been designed to drain stormwater into adjacent garden beds to further assist in the retention and use of stormwater within the site.

Monitoring, Maintenance, and Management

How has the initiative been designed and implemented so that long-term needs for management and maintenance are reduced and can be met?

In developing the Sunvale Community Park Master Plan, the aspirations of the local community were collected and used to drive a vision for the future.

In addition to this, Council has undertaken feasibility studies to determine the likely increase in population within the Sunshine Priority Precinct, where Sunvale Community Park is located. This state significant activity centre in the west of Melbourne, will become denser as apartment buildings are built so the design of Sunvale had to robust while offering an array public realm experience as follows:

Heatwave mitigation
Sustainable water supply
Biodiverse urban forest supporting people, flora and fauna
First Nation People art
Walking and cycling
Formal and natural play
Day and night time events
Picnics and BBQ
Outdoor gym
Cricket, AFL and soccer
Community orchard and herb garden

The capacity for more people to use Sunvale was carefully considered in the design, layout and functional components.

In designing Sunvale, Council has classified this park as Flagship Park as highlighted in Council’s award winning Creating Better Parks Policy & Plan. This plan has received 10 industry awards for the vision, implementation and transformation of parks across Brimbank to support people, nature and liveability.

As a Flagship Park, Sunvale will receive a high level of maintenance and Parks Services have factored this into their ongoing levels of maintenance for Sunvale Community Park.

What protocols are in place to facilitate monitoring of results?

Sunvale Community Park is now monitored by Council Operation staff to ensure that all aspects of the park’s functions are maintained to a Flagship Park standard and to the community’s expectation. This requires weekly actions and site inspections by Council’s Parks Services and Building Maintenance teams.

How has the initiative been enhanced in response to monitoring of results?

The functionality of Sunvale Community Park is ongoing to ensure that the blue/green infrastructure delivers what it is intended to do while all other park assets are monitored regularly to maintain their functionality and safety for the park users.

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