Stephen Forbes, Director, Botanic Gardens of South Australia
Department of Environment, Water & Natural Resources

The eco in economics has the same root as in ecology.  While ecology is the study of our home, economics derives from the administration of the household.  In itsoriginal (Aristotelian) sense economics was about the minimisation of waste and the effective utilisation of scarce resources.  The so-called father of taxonomic botany, Carl Linnaeus wrote at length on The Economy of Nature– essentially a theological version of James Lovelock’s Gaia theory that sees stewardship of Nature as core.  The view of economics as something to do with financial markets has only established in the twentieth century.  Economics is ultimately about the long run and, in the long run,certainly dependent on the contribution of as trees as the drivers of Earth’s life systems.  Trees drive food, climate and water security, underpin ecosystem services and support our health &well-being.  Trees are indeed good!
Bill Clinton’s famous campaign slogan perhaps should have been (It’s) The economy of trees, stupid!

As rich and complex treescapes, botanic gardens are unrivalled as visitor attractions.  The challenge for botanic gardens is to see the genetic and intellectual resources within the botanic gardens harnessed outside the botanic gardens.  The green infrastructure and sustainable landscapes projects at the Botanic Gardens of South Australia illustrate the potential for utilising the institutional architecture of botanic gardens beyond the botanic gardens.  The Green Infrastructure Working Paper prepared through a collaboration evolving in the Botanic Gardens of South Australia that’s won state and national awards with the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, the Planning Institute of Australia and the Urban Development Institute of Australia provides a good place to begin an exploration of trees and economics.

The escalating emphasis on cost and risk management in urban open space and parks & gardens has in significant measure been at the expense of a focus on the benefits and opportunities they provide.  A reframing of urban open space as green infrastructure accords green infrastructure an equivalent status to grey infrastructure (- pipes & wires, roads & parking) and built infrastructure where benefits and opportunities are better understood by the community.  The reframing also endeavours to shift thinking from an area-based approach focussed on ‘open space’ or ‘parks & gardens’ to a values & services-based approach.  The values & services provided by green infrastructure underpin liveability.  Indeed, green infrastructure should be seen as central to environment, social capital, health &well-being, innovation and livelihoods in cities.

While we’re inclined to focus on the environmental benefits of trees, including their beauty the key benefits in cities are likely their contribution to the physical, psychological and social attributes that comprise health and well-being.

While green infrastructure as a frame works well with greenspace practitioners to help in framing of benefits and opportunities it’s an unlikely candidate as the right frame and narrative for the community.Nationally and internationally there are exciting projects and programs that can contribute to our thinking about the benefits and opportunities provided by green infrastructure and the framing and narratives that do connect with decision makers and community.  Poster children include Singapore, Paris & Bogota where vision, governance and capacity align in greenspace development, management and maintenance.  There’s a lot to learn here and great opportunities for Australian cities.

For more information and the evidence base for the value of green infrastructure visit


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