Growing More Sustainable Communities

Article excerpt

According to the Green Building Council of Australia, some 85 per cent of the Australian population is now concentrated in cities, and the nation's population is expected to rise by 60 per cent by 2050. Clearly, the coming decade will see a greater emphasis not only on environmental impacts, but also the social impacts of our expanding urban areas.

While much has been achieved over the last two decades to quantify and improve the environmental performance of buildings and infrastructure, it is still early days in terms of understanding how we can shape more sustainable communities within the built environment.

The CSIRO Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI), an early national effort that ran from 2006 to 2009, began with the understanding that sustainability challenges are complex and that no sector has the capacity to deal with them independently. Furthermore, effective sustainable communities require systemic, collaborative and integrated approaches to succeed.

The SCI resulted in five community sustainability projects around Australia. The report describes how communities, government, non-government, business and research worked together to address sustainability issues. (2)

Elsewhere, the Victorian Government began developing a 'VicUrban Sustainability Charter' in 2004. This aimed 'to demonstrate commercially successful, sustainable urban development to private industry, and to influence the development sector towards creating sustainable communities'. (3)

By 2007, the final charter was launched, including a set of three assessment tools for master-planned communities, urban renewal communities, and provincial communities. The first tool--for master-planned communities--has now been road tested and released, with the remaining two areas currently released for comment.

These assessment tools provide a comprehensive set of considerations to inform the design and retrofit of precincts and communities in Victoria, and a weighted scoring system to rate performance. The tools are based on a set of indicators across five focal areas: community well-being, environmental leadership, urban design excellence, housing affordability and commercial success.

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For example, a focus on environmental leadership would prioritise energy savings or efficiency, such as:

* passive solar design

* efficient heating and cooling appliances, lighting and water heating

* the potential for carbon offsetting.

The tool would then drill down further; for example, requiring the user to indicate whether the efficiency of hot water systems is equivalent to a gas-boosted solar hot water system, an electric-boosted system or an electric heat pump system. This performance measure would then allow a maximum of five points out of a total of 30 points for all energy considerations. (5)

In 2009, VicUrban partnered with the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) to develop a national framework for sustainable communities. The initiative evolved from a national stakeholder workshop, involving government and industry representatives including Stockland, Lend Lease, MAB, Leighton, Mirvac, Grocon and the GPT Group.

The objectives of the framework include:

* providing national consistency and a common language around the definition of best practice sustainable communities

* facilitating stakeholder engagement during the evolution of sustainable communities

* providing a basis for assessment and evaluation of sustainable community evolution. (6)

In addition to the GBCA's work with the Green Star rating system for buildings, the Australian Green Infrastructure Council is developing a rating scheme to provide industry and developers with a methodology to rate the performance of infrastructure projects, complementing the Green Star Communities program. Such projects include:

* roads, rail, bridges and tunnels

* airport airside facilities

* distribution grids (pipes, poles, wires)

* water infrastructure. …