Hort Journal: What Role Do Horticulturists Play in Responding to the Biggest Issues We Face?

By Michael Casey MAIH RH

This article first appeared in the April 2019 of Hort Journal – visit www.hortjournal.com.au for the full edition.

Environmental issues are urgent concerns

Environmental issues such as climate change, urban heat impacts, soil loss, and degradation and water security risks are now urgent concerns for all societies. The expansions and densities of urban environments are presenting newly required skill sets and challenges in landscape design and implementation and with the materials that will now need to be available. These changes in built-up environments deliver a handful of environmental and physical issues such as minimised areas for which plants can grow, stored heat in buildings and roads and altered microclimates, to name a few.


Food Security & Urban Farming

Food security will remain an issue with the expansion of cities and the urban sprawl taking up valuable agricultural land. Our reliance on outdated farming methods and increased food miles will also open up opportunities for farmers to embrace urban farming, but to what extent remains. Therefore, the question regarding the role of Horticulturists and to what extent they can assist in these areas of environmental decline and change are starting to be identified and still in many cases, not yet discussed.


Image Credit: ReGen village vertical farming system via EFFEKT Architects


Opportunities For Horticultural Experts, Architects and City Planners

The Anthropocene is a new geological era in which human activity is the dominant influence on our climate, the environment, food and agriculture systems and even with history being written into the landscape. These challenges present opportunities for ornamental and production horticulturists presently and in the future. As our cities continue to grow it will require the participation of professionals in all fields to design and deliver these complex projects.

Architects have a wonderful ability to adapt to this change through their designs and visions for our cities. Town planners can lay out cities and suburbs allowing for all the infrastructure required to keep its inhabitants moving around seamlessly. But there are large vacant positions that need to be filled by horticultural experts who understand these landscapes and environments and can apply their knowledge of plants, design and management to help complete the new vision of our cities and address the challenges that this, and the changing climate brings. The greening of these buildings, suburbs and cities is not easy and each project is different for a number of reasons, but the fundamental skill required is the knowledge of plants and their capacity to be grown and to survive.


Image Credit: Vo Trong Nghia Architects


Living Building Challenge

In Victoria, Frasers Property group are developing the old Burwood Brickworks, located east of Melbourne, into a new residential, commercial and retail development (mini suburb) that is aiming to achieve the Living Building Challenge, which is regarded as the world’s most rigorous building framework. It is set to deliver manicured gardens and landscaped open spaces, tree-lined pedestrian greenways, interiorscapes throughout the shopping and dining precincts and a rooftop urban farm that will deliver a true ‘paddock to plate’ service. All while delivering the most sustainable and liveable community promoting long term health and well-being to its thousands of visitors and residents.


Burwood Brickworks Retail Centre

Image Credit:  The Fifth Estate


Assuming the above-mentioned example will become the normal process of building and developing our suburbs and cities into the future, then a new set of skills will be required to achieve these design considerations not only to plan and build but to also maintain and continue the survival of urban green spaces. Horticulturists from all sectors whether it be production, ornamental, design, construction, arboriculture can all provide the expertise/links to achieving overall green success in the urban built environment.


AIH Conference 2019

This coming September Australian Institute of Horticulture will be hosting the biennial conference in Perth titled “Horticulturists and Humanity: responding to the biggest challenges we face”. This conference will be a one-day event exploring and discussing themes such as cooling cities, urban foodscapes, soil health, plant sciences and how we as horticulturists can play a role in responding to these issues.


See AIH Conference for more details.


Michael Casey
Australian Institute of Horticulture

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