They paved paradise (and put up a fancy courtyard)

Why are the Darlington trees important?

Image: Peter Prineas

“Save the Darlington Trees” is an ongoing campaign to stop the University of Sydney administration from demolishing a grove of Tallowwood trees behind the Civil Engineering Building. The fate of the 19 trees has become a hotpoint for the local community, with the campaign gaining support from local MPs and university academics. But why are these trees important? 

The Darlington grove supports a range of wildlife, and the local community values the ecological diversity it creates. Peter Prineas, an organiser of the campaign, describes the “possums and flying foxes, rainbow lorikeets, white cockatoos, kookaburras, currawongs, butcher birds, Australian miners, wattle birds, magpies, ravens and at least one migrating koel.” Moreover, a 2014 paper (source) co-authored by USyd professor Dr Dieter Hochuli, who has been involved in the campaign, argues urban biodiversity is important to the wellbeing of nearby residents. These trees are crucial for the local ecosystem and the wellbeing of those around them. 

The local community has been organising since 2015, with ongoing support from Newtown MP Jenny Leong to oppose the demolition. The demolition was brought to the attention of Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who in a letter to the “Save Darlington Trees” campaign, shared sympathy at the demolition, stating she had “serious concerns to the Department [of Planning, Industry and Environment] about the trees, opposing their removal.” In a separate letter to the campaign, Leong promised to “raise the issue with the Liberal Government” in January this year. However, since the development was approved by the Department, neither politician was able to directly intervene in the approval process.

In a letter to Leong, the University justified the demolition as necessary to redevelop the Electrical Engineering Building, to create “a place where… the most promising students can tackle the problems of the future.” The development will be a four-storey building stretching beyond the current Civil Engineering Building, with the carpark and hence the grove replaced by a “landscaped courtyard, the design of which references the constellations above Sydney.”

But students at the nearby Civil Engineering building, which was constructed in the 70s and has not seen major renovations since then, have raised concerns that the University has prioritised shiny new buildings over upkeep of existing ones. “The university is currently too concerned with constructing new buildings than maintaining its current ones,” administrator of popular Facebook page “Broken things in PNR” told Honi. A quick browse of the page indicates the building deserves urgent attention. “Engineering has always been a little in disrepair, though the last 18 months have seen several things go beyond the realm of general disrepair,” one engineering student says.

Though the project is now on hold due to COVID-19,  the development is still scheduled to go ahead with Sydney City Council. Vice Chancellor Michael Spence has offered only empty words to the campaign. “We deeply value our neighbours and I welcome all ongoing discussions of our operations and plans,” he states in his letter. 

“It is crucial that Sydney University is a ‘good neighbour’ and shows respect to those who live in the surrounding suburbs,” Leong wrote in a letter to Spence. “[The University must] reflects the environmentally sustainable values held by the students, staff and local community who are the heart of the organisation.” It’s unclear with this move, whether the University values anything but new buildings for its promotional pamphlets.

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