Canberra's sustainable sidewalks

As you’ve probably already heard, Shane Rattenbury, Minister for Territory and Municipal Services (TAMS) has announced a draft guide, that would allow Canberra residents to utilise residential nature strips for small scale food production or gardens.

Here at Thriving Foodscapes we support any initiative that makes it easier to produce healthy food at home and encourages a thriving sustainable community. 

So for anyone interested in footpath farming, here's what you need to know.


Firstly lets have a look at the history. Here in Canberra in the 1940's we used our large backyards to produce veggies and run chickens, this was to insulate us from war rationing, we called it "Victory” gardening.

The history of nature strip gardening in Australia probably goes back to the 1950’s with immigrations from the Mediterranean, evidence can be seen in the old suburbs of Sydney where they planted productive street trees.

Charles Weston with flowering plum trees, Yarralumla Nursery. Photo National Archives.

Charles Weston with flowering plum trees, Yarralumla Nursery. Photo National Archives.

Canberra also has a history of fruit producing street trees. They were probably planted by Charles Weston, the afforestation officer in charge of the species selection, location and planting in Canberra's early days. Many established fruit trees can still be found in Canberra today and there's even a map for keen foragers.

So why should we start planting our nature strips with veggies today?

Mr Rattenbury explains that “In the face of issues such as climate change, peak oil and drought we must start to think more strategically about Canberra’s food security, which is largely reliant on produce imported from interstate. Simple measures that allow and encourage residents to grow their own food will have an impact in the longer term on Canberra’s reliance on imported produce.”

We aren't the only city that is starting to think this way, for example in the suburb of Chippendale in Sydney, whole streets are being transformed with fruit, herbs, vegetables, leafy salads and native edible weeds. On the Sustainable Chippendale website they state their mission "We need to grow food where we live and work, we are taking action on food security, we want to green and cool our streets!” They even have communal compost bins!

Also, in a video from Costa, he interviews residents of Dulwich Hill in Sydney's inner-west, who have converted concrete sidewalks to thriving gardens.

What are the environmental benefits?

  • Air filtration.
  • Reduced urban 'heat island' effect which raises air temperature in cities.
  • Slowing of rainfall runoff and assisting it infiltrate as soil water rather than be lost to the stormwater drain, thus obtaining a use from it before it returns to the water cycle.
  • Habitat for insects, birds and small reptiles.
  • Carbon sequestration in organically-rich soils.
  • Putting un-productive land to good use.
  • Urban re-greening.

Further advantages can be seen not just in the environmental but also in social improvements such as:

  • New ways to engage with public space.
  • Opportunities in neighbourhood beautification.
  • Developing social capital and civic engagement.
  • Foods to supplement a household’s diet.
  • Improved food security for households and, if adopted on a larger scale, of the city.
Taking responsibility for a kerbside garden provides a new means for people to engage with public space. It is a means of assuming greater responsibility for a neighbourhood and encourages the role of an ‘engaged citizen’. - Russ Grayson

What do we need to mindful of?

  • Not all nature strips are suitable, the site should be analysed first.
  • Pedestrian safety should be a high consideration.
  • Take into consideration if your garden could impede people getting in or out of their cars.
  • Think before you dig, check for buried services.
  • Select the right species.
  • It will be your responsibility to keep it tidy, start small and only take on what you can manage.
  • Check for contaminated soil, you might need to import some.

So let’s start working together towards a more sustainable productive streetscape and an engaged community.

TAMS is currently seeking feedback on their draft guide. You can have your say here, and remember, if you need any help with your foodscaping give us a call.

Main photo credit: communitygarden.org.au