The city as forest - integrating living infrastructure, climate conditioning and urban forestry in Canberra, Australia

Jason Alexandra, Barbara Norman

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Around the world cities are responding to environmental imperatives, including climate change, with diverse programs of ecologically inspired design, water re-engineering, habitat restoration and urban reafforestation. These are collectively known as living infrastructure. This paper is based on a review undertaken to identify suitable options for the use of living infrastructure in Australia’s capital city, Canberra. Known as the ‘bush’ capital, Canberra is a medium sized city ringed with forested hills and grassy woodlands and has one of the highest rates of planted trees in the world, on a per capita basis. This paper summarises the lessons from investigating the opportunities for urban forests, and other living infrastructure being used to further enhance Canberra’s amenity and climate adaptation strategies.


Canberra is a planned city with a history of afforestation since its inception, but still has many opportunities to build on its status as an urban forest. Trees offer more than a backdrop to the city housing Australia’s parliamentary democracy and national cultural institutions – they form a key part of the city’s infrastructure. Planted forests, surrounding bushland and constructed lakes have cultural, practical and ecological values and provide multiple benefits, including climate conditioning. However, they face a range of pressures including from urban redevelopment and a changing climate, raising questions about how to sustain and enhance Canberra’s living infrastructure, whilst meeting other urban policy goals. Using the case of Canberra, this paper outlines how living infrastructure – including urban forests - can contribute to meeting the twenty-first century’s urban challenges.


The experience in Canberra demonstrate that investing in active programs of urban reafforestation and more water sensitive design provide significant opportunities to enhance cities, making them both more liveable and climate responsive. For this to occur at scale, integrated planning is needed that brings together the physical, social and ecological elements of urban systems, including through the integration of different theoretical and practical traditions including from urban planning, energy, transport and water engineering and conservation ecology. At a broader level, this involves reconceptualising the nature of the city and its socio-ecological relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalSustainable Earth
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2020


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