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Designing and managing biodiverse streetscapes: key lessons from the City of Melbourne


Underutilised public spaces such as streetscapes offer substantial opportunities to integrate habitats that increase biodiversity into existing urban landscapes and create more ecologically connected cities. Cooperation and collaboration from diverse stakeholders are paramount to achieving this because growing conditions for plants in streetscapes are often much harsher than remnant habitats or urban parks and little is known about the horticultural performance of many native understorey species in these novel urban environments. This paper describes how the City of Melbourne collaborated with researchers from the University of Melbourne to develop and test a suite of understorey plant species to increase streetscape biodiversity. To do so, we selected species using criteria from a horticultural planting guide which guided the design and creation of four streetscape plantings within the municipality. Here, we document the process and discuss lessons learnt from this project to assist other cities to design, construct and maintain streetscapes with successful, cost-effective plantings that improve urban biodiversity and aesthetic value. Key to the long-term success of these biodiverse plantings was thorough soil preparation and weed management before planting, and the implementation of a clear, ecologically sensitive management plan. To support this plan, suitably qualified and experienced landscape maintenance staff were essential, particularly those with horticultural knowledge and experience with indigenous and native plant species. Our project highlights the often conflicting needs of local authorities and ecological researchers and the necessary trade-offs needed to meet realistic goals and achieve successful project outcomes for creating more biodiverse urban landscapes.

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We thank the many individuals involved in the project – in particular the construction project manager Mary Chapman for her invaluable expertise and experience and Rodger Elliot for his horticultural expertise and peer review of the Urban Nature Planting Guide. Additional details on this project can be found here: We are also grateful to the Associate Editor Loren Byrne and four anonymous reviewers who provided valuable feedback on draft versions of this manuscript.


The authors did not receive support from any organization for the submitted work.

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Correspondence to Nicholas S. G. Williams.

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The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare that are relevant to the content of this paper.

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Tan, HA., Harrison, L., Nelson, J. et al. Designing and managing biodiverse streetscapes: key lessons from the City of Melbourne. Urban Ecosyst 25, 733–740 (2022).

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  • Ecological design experiment
  • Horticultural maintenance
  • Indigenous flora
  • Living laboratory
  • Local government
  • Urban biodiversity