Cool Communities—Urban Density, Trees, and Health
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A move towards more compact and climate-resilient cities is being encouraged around the world. As part of these plans, there is a need to manage the potential conflict between increasing urban densities and the extent of tree canopy in cities. Reductions in tree canopy are a major contributor to the urban heat island (UHI) effect, which will act to reduce rather than increase climate resilience in many cities. A systems thinking approach called Collaborative Conceptual Modelling was used to study the interaction between urban infill, tree canopy, and human health in Perth, Australia. The results indicated that under current planning policies and development practices, the behaviour of the system is dominated by the drive towards higher housing densities. While this may result in the attainment of urban infill targets, it is likely to lead to a reduction in tree canopy, higher temperatures, and a decrease in a range of other benefits provided by trees. Recommended actions to overcome this behaviour were determined by the identification of leverage points in the system. These included a shift to a sustainable development paradigm that places greater value on the environmental and social benefits provided by trees and a greater emphasis on a climate-resilient future. Market and legislative mechanisms should be integrated into the city’s greening strategy and development plans to ensure the protection of existing trees and the inclusion of new trees on public and private land.
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