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Meet: Lucy Sharman, Sydney's green wall advisor

Meet Lucy Sharman. Photo - Robin Powell

Last year the City of Sydney adopted the country’s first green wall and green roof policy. Robin Powell talked to the woman charged with making Sydney literally greener.

Sydney is a pioneer on green roofs in Australia, but other cities are also doing this aren’t they?

Most overseas cities have a range of approaches to promote green roofs. Often these have been a response to some important public health issue. In the Bronx, for example, there were significant problems with childhood asthma. They had something like eight times the national incidence, and the problem was air quality. That drove the green roof agenda - plants were needed to clean the air. In Toronto the problem was water pollution. Each spring the massive amount of water from the melted snow caused pollution to flow into the lakes system floods and forced the beaches to close. They found that it was cheaper and more effective to green Toronto’s roofs than to re-engineer the stormwater system. For Copenhagen it’s about climate change adaptation, and that’s a driver for us as well. Copenhagen is aiming to be carbon neutral and so they have mandated that every new roof (of less then 30-degree pitch) has to be a green roof.

We tend to focus on how good green walls and roofs look, like the fabulous one at Central Park in Sydney’s Broadway. But there are other benefits too.

Yes, air quality, biodiversity, temperature and noise insulation, and we also know now that greenery is very important for human physical and mental health. Our sense of wellbeing is improved by being close to greenery. Yet often decisions are made in a very two-dimensional economic way. The question asked is how much does it cost now, despite the fact that we all feel this extra level of comfort and ease in the presence of growing things.


Central Park green walls drip with a waterfall of foliage. Photo - Robin Powell

Is there increasing interest in green walls and roofs?

There’s great enthusiasm! Over the past two years we have been receiving a Development Application every week that includes a green roof. These projects range in scale from a little 10 square metre green roof, to something that aims to replicate Sydney’s original forest canopy four storeys up, or Sydney’s Central Park, which has the highest green walls in Australia at 33 storeys.

What are the practical applications of the Council’s policy?

One of the main things we are addressing is the barriers. For example, we have a waterproofing guide coming out. There’s still a perception that green roofs or walls might cause leaks. In fact green roofs protect the waterproofing membrane and increase the life of the roof. The guide helps to redress these perceptions and helps people who want to do it, do it right.


Photo - Robin Powell

What can we expect to see in the next few years?

I honestly feel that if we can integrate plants and buildings, we can make the city much more livable. We can ameliorate issues like air quality, loss of habitat, and that feeling of being stuck in apartment with no green space anywhere around. Sydney is a far better place to be because of the drive to include plants in the way we design and plan our city. 


Interview: Robin Powell

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Author: Robin Powell