City Hub

Blowing hot air : leaf blowers are the new urban evil

Cartoon by Mark Lynch



A leaf-blower is a profanity. Yet I also know native London plane trees support fauna and absorb petrol fumes. In summer, they create shade and cooling breezes to reduce strain on our overloaded electricity grid. They’re a living, breathing, life-saving, single micro-climate.

Architect and town planner, Kylie Legge, author of “Future Solutions” says in her talk about the future of cities at the Vivid Festival, that “community values aren’t going to shift. People want to walk along and sit under tree.”

Let’s do coffee, Kylie. My shout: I know the perfect plane tree.

These trees, with their gilt, autumnal, cascading leaves create a crunchy blanket underfoot and herald the eternal cycle of the seasons. They drop, drop like slow tears, swaying rhapsodically in tune with the zephyrs which lullaby and cradle their tumbling return to the same earth from whence they were born. In the sky above, their branch arches kiss to create a canopy which makes a gloriously glowing golden veil in the sky. Each leaf is a signal from above that nature is omniscient.

It’s a sylvan suburban scene. Or is it? No.

Sydney Council, that self-appointed priesthood, arrives like a bad party guest who trashes the place and guzzles the best wine before scuppering. Council strides onto streets revving ear-splitting, mind-numbing, 100-decibel, leaf-blower engines disrupting our natural bio-rhythms.
Raspy, riotous, rackety leaf-blower engines create more noise than a hundred falling forests or jet engines on Mascot Airport’s Runway One.

Noise is a major urban public health issue affecting our psychological and physical well-being.
Blasting out hot air (like council itself) at hurricane-force speeds, these engines spread allergens, toxins, pollutants and pathogens into the air we breathe into our brains and body. They are carbon dioxide pollution bombs.

They should be banned. Their users should be arrested for disturbing the peace. Council should fine itself under the 1997 Environment Protection Act.

Leaf-blowers are evil. 30% of the fuel and oil mixture doesn’t combust, creating toxins such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and hydrocarbons. These make up more than 7% of global warming and add to acid rain. Carbon monoxide is toxic to humans and pets.

Environmental scientific studies prove emissions from a single leaf-blower in one year equals running eighty cars 20,000kms! Hydrocarbons are smog-creating, cancer-causing carcinogens. This poisonous toxic cocktail exacerbates allergies, asthma and acute pulmonary disorders in children and the elderly.

The American Lung Association recommends everyone avoid them.​ They’ve been banned in Los Angeles since 1998.
Pollarding (trimming), is the answer to leaf litter. The world’s most elegant street, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, reserved for pedestrians and cyclists once a month, is a place of glory and grandeur. Plane trees are not vilified or sneezed at. They’re carefully coiffured. Each tree is trimmed by topiarists into a living work of art into the tulip shape a champagne glass flute. What else?

Small stockings are cradled under branches. Dust and pollen are collected naturally and emptied at sunset. It’s all discrete, elegant and très Française.

Their street sweepers use a bit of man-muscle and real, straw-thatched, mediaeval-designed, oak brooms to corral every remaining petiole, foliole and stipule. It’s a retro solution but the exercise works off all those beautiful, buttery croissants.

What’s wrong with this? Nothing. Who doesn’t love a croissant?

Sydney Council workers questioned about leaf-blowers coyly admit they are anathema. Workers in my street say they only use brooms if residents complain. So if they know this why doesn’t council?

Consider my heckle a group groan and community complaint, council.

Why can’t council even enforce its own grandiose 2030 master plan?

Am I asking too many questions? Good.

Council reckons it “aims to provide low-carbon, water sensitive, climate resilient, zero waste, active, green and cool” environmental solutions.

I reckon it’s missed its aim. Its claim is a nonsense on stilts and the biggest piece of intellectual fairy floss ever foisted on the public.

So we’re now living in a disturbia, not suburbia, as council tries to kill us off.

But we’re not snuffed out quite yet: we live and can still breathe enough to take back our council; for us, by us, with us in mind.

Andrew Woodhouse is President, Potts Point & Kings Cross Residents’ Society.