What does a resilient Melbourne look like?

Ecodynamics Director Dr Nick Somes explores the impact of population growth on the environment and the city's liveability, and what we can do about it
2 March 2020

Melbourne will be Australia’s largest city by 2070

What will Melbourne look like in 50 years time? Our city is one of the fastest growing in the world and is predicted to be the country’s largest by 2070, with the population set to reach 10 million. This is double our current population, and cannot be achieved without impacts on the environment and its liveability.

Extreme weather events brought on by climate change will mean that our city experiences a range of stresses and shocks. These factors will be exacerbated by the sheer size of the population.

Stresses and Shocks – the realities of climate change

(Image credit: Resilient Melbourne)

The Living Melbourne Strategy for a greener, more liveable Melbourne

In response to these circumstances, the Living Melbourne strategy was developed to build a resilient, connected and thriving community in Melbourne. Living Melbourne was developed by 32 municipalities that make up greater Melbourne, state government authorities, research organisations and community groups.

Living Melbourne has focus areas of:

  • Healthy people
  • Abundant nature
  • Natural infrastructure

Central to the focus areas is the establishment of tree cover across Melbourne and the management of stormwater to get water into the landscape.

These themes were explored recently at M Pavilion by Emma Pryse, Dr Claire Farrell and myself where we discussed the tools available and recent projects and research that demonstrate we can make our city more liveable.

Greening the West – improving health and environmental outcomes in Melbourne’s western suburbs

We discussed the delivery of Greening the West, which has planted over 1 million trees in the west of Melbourne with the intention that these trees will deliver improved health and environmental outcomes to local communities. The drivers of this project were creating climate resilience to decrease the impact extreme heat events, and encourage the community into open spaces to improve their general health.

We also discussed the realities of planting trees in a changing climate, and the need to plan for climate change. Our climate is changing, with our climate in 50 years predicted to be like the climate in central New South Wales today. Current practices of local provenance and restoration of existing landscapes are unlikely to be successful in the future as trees will not tolerate the new hotter drier climate. This approach confronts many and will be an ongoing topic of debate.

The role of stormwater in our open spaces

The role of stormwater in revitalising our open spaces was discussed by Emma as she introduced the Greening the Pipeline project. The Greening the Pipeline aims to transform the heritage listed Main Outfall Sewer pipeline reserve, along the Federation Trail bike path, into a parkland to service a growing population in Melbourne’s west. The vision is to create a vibrant space that will connect communities, enhance active transport options for the region, manage water sensitively and provide a unique space to meet, play and relax.

To date a pilot project has been completed, and plans are in progress to deliver the next stage of the project. Central to the Greening the Pipeline is the acknowledgement of stormwater as a resource, with the capture and reuse of it to deliver high quality landscapes in an area of Melbourne with some of the lowest rainfall. Emma discussed the realities of working on a heritage asset with multiple asset owners running through the middle of the urban Melbourne.

New approaches to urban greening techniques

Dr Claire Farrell outlined new approaches and research into urban greening techniques. Maintenance and operational costs are often used as a barrier to revegetate sites, especially on transport networks where safe access is difficult. Woody meadows have been proposed and are being trialled with a view to them meeting the needs. This prompted a lively discussion about approaches to urban greening, techniques and need for leadership.

In closing, Emma summed the night up “This is a strategy that requires strong leadership to implement and achieve success, at both the macro and micro scale. From large tree planting initiatives planting millions of trees to people planting and nurturing and protecting a single tree in their backyard. We all have a role to play in Living Melbourne, and we are all connected to it through the air that we breathe that it is the outbreath of nature.” As she finished her closing remarks a magpie flew down just behind us and warbled a beautiful song. We couldn’t have had a more fitting endorsement.


I would like to thank MPavilion for the opportunity to use the space, my co presenters and the public that attended. We met on the lands of the Yaluk-ut Weelan people of the Kulin Nation and I acknowledge them as the traditional owners.

Greening the West - one million trees program