Are parks/lawns/gardens highly valued in Australian cities and suburbs?
December 23, 2008 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Are parks and lawns highly valued in Australian cities and suburbs? Does drought threaten parks/lawns/gardens in a palpable way?

I've heard parks/lawns/gardens are valued highly in Perth, but are also threatened by worsening drought problems. Does this translate to other areas of Australia as well? Is the threat of drought on parks/lawns/gardens an impactful one?
posted by GIMG to Society & Culture (13 answers total)
Yes.. In country Victoria (the state that has Melbourne), many sports ovals have had to close because water rationing means that the grass can be watered, wreaking havoc in local Australian Rules football leagues.

Water restrictions in most states mean that it is very hard to keep lawns, ovals, gardens watered. It isn't just restricted to Western Australia.. most of the Eastern seaboard is affected as well. With Australia being synonymous with outdoor activity, it is pretty hard to overestimate the impact the drought has had.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 11:54 AM on December 23, 2008

Yes. This document describes the use of recycled water on New Farm Park in Brisbane where several 90 year jacaranda trees recently died as a result of damage caused by the drought.

Because of the temperatures in this country, many Australians lead an outdoor lifestyle, eating outside, playing sport, gardening. Most homes have grass lawns but a growing recognition of the futility of exotic plants in this harsh environment has lead to an increase in Australian native plants.

In Brisbane in the last 12 months, the State and Local governments have worked together to make it possible for every landowner to have water tanks supplied by rain water from their roof. This was discouraged for a long time because of the potential health hazard in undrinkable water, but a recent newspaper article shows that residents of South East Queensland are holding to a usage pattern of 155 kilolitres a day, down from an allowable 170 KL.
posted by b33j at 12:33 PM on December 23, 2008

Canberra is particularly well known for its green open spaces. This page from the Department of Territory and Municipal Services details the irrigation methods and other general policy applied to ensure the city maintains these areas (such as using drought resistant plants etc.).
posted by ryanbryan at 12:40 PM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, and yes. My state, Victoria, is known as the Garden State, partly because of the many notable national parks and public gardens. Most of those public gardens are now using recycled or reclaimed water to keep going. Households in Melbourne are on Stage 3A water restrictions which means we can't water our lawns and can only water gardens twice a week on designated days. Some country areas are on level 4 restrictions and some have been on level 5 at some stage during the past year.

This is the Victorian government's water saving site and gives you some idea of all the measures they're putting in place.

The impact on parks and gardens and other recreational spaces (putting aside the impact on agriculture) is large, particularly for those country towns which are running out of water. A sports ground and associated activities are often the lifeblood of small towns and there are a whole lot of clubs and activities that rely on them, and they also provide community cohesion at a time when many farm communities are really depressed. There's also a tourism impact, of course.

The strangest thing for me about going to the UK and Paris earlier this year was seeing fountains in full force, and sprinklers going in gardens and on lawns. I haven't seen a sprinkler here in years. I had to resist the urge to run through them.
posted by andraste at 1:50 PM on December 23, 2008

Talking of impact, there were (and still are, sad to say) several cases where football fields were closed because there was no grass at all and the ground hardened so much that it was like playing on concrete and it was just too dangerous. Parks fare a little better - many local councils are able to use recycled water to keep things alive, but the more you get inland, the worse it tends to be.

Water restrictions are enforced (you can dob people in or be spotted by the water inspectors) and, although they've been relaxed somewhat in my area (near Sydney), they're still fairly strict. You can get them in detail here.
posted by ninazer0 at 2:02 PM on December 23, 2008

I grew up in Perth. Over there, whenever you built a new house, you also got turf delivered because you can't grow grass easily there (it's all sand). It takes a mammoth amount of water to get the turf to graft and grow, and to keep it going. Most people, until the water restrictions, had fancy reticulation systems to keep watering the grass.

It reminds me a bit of Las Vegas - the greenery is totally inappropriate to the environment.

Other areas of Australia are slightly different due to the soil, but many people are now changing their lawns and gardens to be more sensitive to the environment.

As andraste says, seeing a sprinkler is quite a treat now.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:47 PM on December 23, 2008

Yes, and I wish more people would at least gorw useful things like foods. A lot of people I know maintain a lawn - watering, mowing, feeding. I think a lawn has been a bit of a status symbol in the past.
posted by lottie at 3:58 PM on December 23, 2008

yes, in melbourne a lot of sports arenas are becoming unusable/dangerous to play on, because there is no soft surface and the hard ground is not suitable for competitve sport.
in the major sporting arenas, recycled water and transported grass is used to try and keep it to an international level.
there is probably only a few pockets such as the lake argyle area at the moment where the water is plentiful!
posted by edtut at 5:14 PM on December 23, 2008

Yes, as others have said - lawns are valued but also easily given up when you don't have an option. I remember the terrible drought of the mid-80s in Canberra (the bush capital, respectful of the native landscape but people still love their grass) and all of our school ovals and private lawns were dead and brown. Local councils enforce the restrictions.

The strangest thing for me about going to the UK and Paris earlier this year was seeing fountains in full force, and sprinklers going in gardens and on lawns

Ha! Two years ago we were threatened (here in London) with a total private water ban - water would have only been accessible from public standpipes in the street. Australian municipal councils control when you can wash your car and water your lawn, but turning off the water to your house was never, ever mentioned.

GIMG, You can always get a rainwater tank for additional supply, if you need it.
posted by goo at 5:26 PM on December 23, 2008

It's fairly important to have a front lawn in Perth because it absorbs the heat. Other materials heat up and burn your feet. It's always been obvious how much people value their lawns, because they are hard to grow down here. Every block has a house with the better lawn, but I wouldn't say the drought problems have changed things too much.
posted by Submiqent at 7:04 PM on December 23, 2008

On a related note something I have noticed is the growing ubiquity of those "Tank Water in Use" or "Recycled water in Use" signs in parks and on residential gardens that look lush or thriving. The signs are necessary because of the phenomenon of dobbing in a suspected water waster!

As for other social impacts - I know a young couple who regularly volunteer to hand-water the gardens of their elderly neighbors. Water restrictions prohibit the use of hoses and daylight watering which is a bit inconvenient for some older people who cant be lugging buckets of water around the garden in the dark!

Also agree with the comments about fountains above. in Melbourne in the early stage of the drought they turned the fountains off. A few years later, they filled them in or paved them over.

The nightly news weather report now includes a current Dam Levels report in addition to the forecast, UV index and bush fire danger reports.

Even my dad, a Scotsman who was in denial about the drought for years, showers with a bucket at his feet to catch what he can for the plants.

And when it does rain and Kiwi or British people complain - they get a lecture!
posted by evil_esto at 11:02 PM on December 23, 2008

The park in Ballarat, Victoria, used to have a huge lake. It is now empty because of the drought.

Perth's town planners left all those trees/parks/green spaces in for a reason, even if they are water-needy. The city itself would get unbearably hot otherwise. Just about every street I lived on in Perth had a park on it... I wish Queensland town planners had the same idea! Most of the towns here are dustbowls.
posted by indienial at 2:19 AM on December 24, 2008

The article you link to is very sensationalist (and out-of-date). Almost all of Australia will be just fine in the future and will have even better lawns and lusher gardens. 85% of the population lives on the coast, making desalination a very viable long-term option. Perth already has a desalination plant and Adelaide is building one as we speak.
posted by zaebiz at 3:48 AM on December 24, 2008

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