May 18. What has been noticeable in our community over the last 2 months is the emphasis people place on our environment – on the pleasure of walking and the freedom to get outside without restriction. In South Australia we have been allowed to walk: walk with a partner, walk the dog, throughout our severest lockdown, even when, at first, no one quite knew what was in store for us. On social media these activities featured prominently. People commented on the things they noticed and photographed: the sunsets; the animals and plants; the teddy bears they found perched in trees, hanging on front gates or looking out of windows.
People went to the beach, maintained social distancing, and spoke about how special it was to go there. Suddenly, the normal became appreciated. Did we miss going shopping? Not really. Did we miss travelling? Maybe – but what we missed was family more than the act of seeing new places.
Walking, or getting out of our houses, the freedom to move around became the number one thing we wanted to do – we took pictures, posted on Instagram and told others about it. Walking is therapeutic, no question. At 3 in the morning you can feel anxious about the way forward … but once you walk out into the forest, the bush, the park, those thoughts are blunted. This effect is not rocket science.
What we should now realise is that we must preserve our parks and wilder places in our cities and our urban fringe. Whenever I flew into Los Angeles, our Air New Zealand flight circling to land, I was amazed by how little green space there was visible in the city. Where were the great parks? The city appeared to be a crosshatching of buildings under a mist of pollution. Contrast Los Angeles with my Adelaide. (Not fair really: 18 million residents in greater LA compared to 1 million in Adelaide.)
Adelaide is a small city, a young city in European terms. It was planned with great foresight by Colonel William Light in 1837. The main city grid is based on a Roman ‘castrum’ with a central public open space, 4 smaller ones in each quarter sector and the whole square surrounded by a 500-metre wide band of parkland. Town Planners love it, study it. This city works and the plan has stood the test of time. The encircling public parkland is a joy to residents and fiercely defended when various state governments have tried to invade it with what they regard as essential, ‘progressive’ development.
Add to our environment a slow meandering river, the River Torrens, which runs west out of our Hills, right through the city to the sea. It is flanked by a 30 km ribbon of parks and bike ways. The Torrens is a thin, seasonal river lined with ancient River Red Gums. And when you reach the sea, there is a 70km coastal park path along the seafront from North Haven to Sellicks Beach. Indeed, this is a city that is a happy place for bike riders.
People are wondering how Covid-19 will change our societies. Could we perhaps build a better world? Or is that pie in the sky? It is apparent that, for some time, there won’t be funds in our government’s budget to be generous with such plans. But on a small scale we could start thinking of things to do.
Could there be a change of emphasis driven by the community, a community now more aware of the precious nature of our public spaces?
New Zealand, led by their PM, Jacinda Ardern, plans to do things differently with a ‘Well Being Budget’. This is like a breath of fresh air.
“Finance Minister Grant Robertson outlined the plan to the country’s parliament – with billions released for mental health services, child poverty and measures to tackle family violence.
“Success is about making New Zealand both a great place to make a living, and a great place to make a life,” he said.
Could we not lobby our councils to: offer maps for walking and bike riding; provide a listing of street trees; grant conservation protection for older stands of trees; proactively advise residents on trees to plant; halt building plans that cover the full block? Our council already offers cheap sessions of yoga and exercise for older people. They could also offer supervised walks by environmentalists to educate about the bushland that we have within the council area. Get inventive.
Schoolkids could get involved in planting trees along waterways and cleaning them regularly – perhaps to ‘own’ a section of the river. We could lobby to reduce the speed levels on urban roads and add more dedicated bike path ways. More people will be working from home. Make the home area more community friendly.
We don’t have enough community gardens. In Seattle people seldom have front fences and use their sidewalks as planting space for herbs and vegetables. We don’t do that in Adelaide and our tree filled urban back yards are disappearing under the onslaught of huge double homes on old single blocks.
What other ideas are out there?