The Nature of Nature Strips

By Adrian Marshall

Investigating Urban Form, Manager Attitudes and Landscape Context to Inform Strategies for Improved Biodiversity in Melbourne’s Residential Nature Strips

Research on nature strips, the green space within the road easement, is mostly absent from the international literature on urban green space – despite their ubiquity in planned residential development globally. In many cities, and including Melbourne, they are the main location of the urban forest, are a defining aspect of roads and neigh¬bourhoods, are the green space most often encountered on a daily basis, and have the remarkable attribute of being public space managed in large by private citizens.

Between the kerb and a hard place, nature strips hide in plain sight.

The ubiquity of nature strips, and the manner in which they are embedded within the fabric of urban development, means they have great potential for contributing to the public realm. They can provide essential biodiversity, sustain ecosystem processes, contribute to human health and well-being, and strengthen civic engagement in issues of fundamental importance. Collective action by the citizenry who are the primary managers of this resource, through many small pro-biodiversity actions, could provide substantial benefits. Such action could also feedback positively into social value systems that promote such action.

In terms of policy, informed debate has identified biodiversity and the urban forest as matters requiring urgent attention, yet nature strips have yet to be well-integrated within this rapidly developing policy arena. The discipline of urban ecology is maturing and is now able to provide a robust basis for investigation. Understanding the drivers of biodiversity in nature strips will be fundamental to setting meaningful goals and proposing means for change to support biodiversity provision in the street, and moving us towards more sustainable cities. This research seeks to collect fundamental data which is currently lacking but is crucial to informed progress in this area.

Importantly, this research is transdisciplinary in nature. By deliberately positioning itself between landscape architecture, urban design, urban ecology and environmental psychology it can provide insights into the dynamics of the system not possible through investigations that are restricted to a single focus.

This research aims to 1) characterise the nature strips of Melbourne, 2) examine the attitudes, intentions and behaviours of stakeholders, and 3) to use these data in order to propose a framework for future nature strip provision of biodiversity.