Perhaps I’ve simply been oblivious before, but this year it seems the bush around Berowra is awash with flowers – white posies crowning the Sydney red gums (Angophora costata) that now appear to be on every street corner, ridgetop and slope.
There’s something strange about this foam of blossom appearing across our familiar view, as if, while we weren’t looking, a stagehand unrolled a new backdrop to our lives. I’ve become a tiny bit obsessed by capturing this new scene on camera. Here’s a small sample of my multiples. Andy Warhol eat your heart out.
Of course, this new cartography of living things is still a map of privilege, of the breathing space between people. They don’t call affluent parts of town “the leafy suburbs” for nothing.
Creating and keeping green space gets more urgent as cities get hotter. An article in the Harvard Gazette reports research on the way inequality, heat and green space correlate. “Heat” says Joyce Klein Rosenthal, who teaches in Harvard’s School of Design, “is an environmental stressor, unevenly distributed in places where there are less trees, less green space, and associated with poorer housing quality”. “At every scale” she noted “income levels are associated with surface temperatures. Poorer neighborhoods are hotter; wealthier neighborhoods are cooler”
Street trees have magic carpets beneath them, not just lilac flowers, but shade. And on a stifling day the breath of wind across a city park – old-school evaporative airconditioning – is almost as good as the breeze off the water. Just now, the City of Sydney is trying to green streets and villages, beating the urban heat island effect by shading concrete, weaving plants into walls and sowing seeds on roofs.
But, that hasn’t stopped the chainsaws round here. New regulations in NSW, created in the name of fire risk-management, let householders rip, at least on trees ten metres or less from their place (oddly, it seems that trees in the middle of spectacular views present the greatest fire hazard). What an irony: climate change, worsened by tree-felling, makes the Australian weather hotter and extends the bushfire season. We fear the urban forests, just as we need them the most.
After years of cultivating a back yard the size of a large picnic blanket (that’s to say, a picnic blanket made of concrete) every day I bless the growing things I see from my window. I may feel differently one day when the view from my back deck is Sydney red gums topped with flame rather than flowers. Let’s hope I don’t find out anytime soon.