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A word from Rom - Does size matter?

Romilly Madew, Chief Executive Officer
Green Building Council of Australia

Here’s my first big, bold prediction for the year: 2015 will be the year that small becomes sexy.

‘Sustainability’ is as much about good use of space and resources as it is about getting an independent rating.  The last decade or so has seen a significant reduction in the average office space per employee. In 1995, it was around 30 square metres; today it is 20 square metres or less.  

Yet while workspace ratios have declined in recent years, we continue to think big is best in residential development.

Australians currently build some of the largest new houses in the world (overtaking Americans in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis).  As our population grows and our cities expand, we will need to challenge this ‘supersize-me’ thinking.

Professor Rob Adams from the City of Melbourne argues that population growth – which may mean Australia is home to 40 million people by 2060 – could be the best thing to happen in our cities, provided we embrace a philosophy of “intensification, not dispersion.”

The word ‘density’ often evokes concrete jungles of high rise apartments, commuters sardined into crowded trains and congested streets. However, as the GBCA’s Chief Operating Officer, Robin Mellon, pointed out recently in Sourceable: “density can also mean museums and art galleries, café culture and festivals, diverse dining options and efficient transport systems.  Density can also generate employment, wealth and investment.”

And this is why many city dwellers are beginning to trade place for space, choosing to live in ‘micro apartments’.  The Age may argue that “Melbourne is becoming a city of ‘super-dense’ towers, packed with tiny apartments” but for many people, a smaller place closer to work and with access to amenities can equal a better quality of life.

The Green Star – Multi Unit Residential rating tool was originally developed to encourage such developments to improve sustainability, quality AND amenity, and the certified projects from Moonah to Melbourne and from Reid to Rozelle have achieved just those objectives.

As Green Star – Communities projects such as Bowden in South Australia and Barangaroo South in Sydney demonstrate, a great place to live is not just a question of space – it’s about amenity too.  People want to live close to shops and services, to entertainment and excitement – to, in a word, ‘life’.

While most people with a choice may shrink from the thought of ‘high rise enclaves’, density doesn’t need to mean ‘residential ghettos’.  Keynote speaker at Green Cities 2015, Larry Beasley, argues that we are captivated by places with “character, charm and caprice”.  These places are rarely low-density suburbs, but inner-city neighbourhoods with walkable streets, human-scale buildings and economic vitality.  When we build places that people love, they will stand the test of time.

The GBCA looks forward to being part of this ongoing conversation in the year ahead.  Come along to Green Cities to hear Larry Beasley and Rob Adams share their insights, or join Larry in the Urban Design & Placemaking Masterclass on Thursday 19 March.  We hope to see you there.

Romilly Madew
Chief Executive Officer
Green Building Council of Australia