Serene, green spaces key to urban resilience

30 January 2023

Meet your City of Melbourne councillors
Councillor Rohan Leppert

As our city grows, serene green spaces will be more important than ever, according to Councillor Rohan Leppert.

One of his favourite places to park his bike for a while and enjoy a natural setting is the Trin Warren Tam-boore wetland in Royal Park.

This wetlands area isn’t just a peaceful spot, with bushland and birdlife – it’s also a symbol of City of Melbourne sustainability initiatives in action.

“It doesn’t feel like it, but this is actually an entirely artificial constructed landscape,” Cr Leppert explained.

“The wetlands have been constructed and designed to replicate natural systems as much as possible. And the end result is extraordinary. This is a sanctuary that’s a stone’s throw from the city, a place for people to relax and be together or to be entirely separate from the metropolis of 5 million people around us.”

“It’s also is a symbol of what councils can do, in partnership with the State and Commonwealth, because this wetland actually recycles and replenishes the water that it collects and it pumps it back up and waters the entire park. That is water that we’re not drawing from drinkable, dammed water systems. It’s a sustainability machine, and I think it’s quite extraordinary.”

Reeds and rushes trap contaminants and purify the water. The surrounding grasses and trees provide food and shelter for animals, just four kilometres away from a bustling city centre.

Working on environmental initiatives has been a hallmark of Cr Leppert’s time on council. First elected in 2012, he currently heads the environment portfolio. He said he first stood for election to expand residents’ representation and to foreground the importance of the environment in an urban setting.

“I just saw obvious opportunities for more local resident voices to champion the local environment on council. That balance in political representation is really important to get right,” he said.

“We are in a global state of crisis and councils might not have access to the biggest financial levers that can remove incentives for pollution. But what we do is plan the public realm and we can reduce reliance on water and help local residents and businesses change the way that they use energy.

“Cities are where it’s at when it comes to decarbonisation of our systems and improving the natural environment for the health of all of us.”

The City of Melbourne has declared a climate and biodiversity emergency and is acting on several fronts to reduce emissions and waste and prepare the city for climate change impacts.

Cr Leppert said he has built on an approach championed by some of his past peers, to create green open spaces wherever possible.

“I’m very lucky to have inherited a lot of that good work this term, and I’m quite proud of embracing this post-COVID economic stimulation approach to budgeting that we’ve adopted and funnelling as much of that towards the creation of new parks – whether that’s in our urban renewal areas where we have bought land on Chelmsford Street on the banks of the Moonee Ponds Creek in Kensington, or in established areas where we’re building pocket parks such as in Bedford Street in North Melbourne. In my first term of council my passion project was the park outside Kensington Station.

“We’ve been able to work with the local community to identify opportunities and to improve people’s lives and the amenity of our suburbs. All of that is underpinned by this desire to make the city a greener, cooler, more resilient place. Watching that come to fruition has been one of the joys of my life.”

The challenges of a growing population remain, he said. Councillors take into account environmental and planning and building concerns in their deliberations.

“Despite the population trough during the pandemic, we are seeing a significant recovery and we are still planning for astonishing population growth in our urban renewal areas in particular.

“So for any government, do you keep the same settings that have produced a sort of density which is not as sustainable or affordable as it could be? Or do you work harder to try and make sure that with that density comes really healthy outcomes and enough open space for a bigger population?

“I am an urban planner and I have a really strong focus on making sure that we’re doing density as effectively and healthily as we can. But that is still our biggest challenge because council is financially constrained after the pandemic.”

He maintains that a capital city council can have a major role in helping balance profitable development with a high quality public realm, particularly in areas on the brink of massive expansion.

“Macaulay, Arden and Fishermans Bend are flagship urban renewal areas and there are a lot of extraordinary professional experts at the City of Melbourne who are working their guts out to make sure that we do everything we can, within the powers available to us, to set these urban renewal areas up to succeed.”

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