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A word from Rom - Creating connected cities


Romilly Madew, Chief Executive Officer
Green Building Council of Australia

In the era of instant information, we live in a globally connected world – and it’s time for our cities to catch up.

A building, a community or even a city cannot be sustainable if it’s not accessible – and that means ensuring we create good connections between people and buildings.

Until the Industrial Revolution, walking was our most affordable, accessible form of transport.  In most cases, it was our only form of transport.

One of our most popular Green Cities 2014 keynote speakers, Kent Larson, showed how our cities evolved from villages that “clustered around a well”, with the size of that settlement roughly the distance that you could walk “with a pot of water over your head”.  Maps of medieval Paris, for instance, show a series of little villages in which all essential services – shops, cafes and pharmacies – were within a twenty minute walk. 

While our ancient human settlements radiated from water sources, our modern ones tend to radiate from transport hubs and employment centres.  And as work becomes something that we do, not a place we go, the solitary, single-minded car trip in peak hour must make way for a 21st century commute – such as a healthy, productive ride on public transport that combines time to clear the email backlog with a brisk walk to and from the station, or even a leisurely cycle to the local WiFi-enabled café.  Quite simply, our transport needs must change as we recalibrate the way we live and work. 

A connected city is an equitable city.  Melbourne, the host metropolis of Green Cities 2015 this year, has a myriad of transport options: from trains, trams and buses to the Melbourne Bike Share system with dozens of bike stations throughout the city.  But while the denizens of Melbourne’s inner suburbs, such as Carlton, Fitzroy and St Kilda, may enjoy living in a place with ‘walkscores’ in the 90s – meaning most activities can be undertaken on foot – those living out on the fringes are more dependent on cars.  The picture is much the same in each of our capital cities.

According to the Heart Foundation, public transport users in metropolitan Melbourne average 28 minutes walking to and from public transport each day, plus six minutes walking for other purposes. In contrast, car travellers average only six minutes in total.  Just 2,000 steps a day can lead to an eight per cent reduction in cardiovascular disease; 4,000 steps a day can lead to an 18 per cent reduction. So how valuable are those minutes now?

Another decade-long study from the University of Melbourne has found that residents of new housing developments increased their exercise and their wellbeing when they had more access to shops and parks. 

And the Heart Foundation points to a US study which has calculated every additional hour a day spent in a car translates into a six per cent increase in obesity risk, while every additional kilometre walked translates into a 4.8 per cent reduction in the likelihood of being obese. 

The Green Star – Communities ‘Healthy & Active Living’ credit rewards projects that provide footpaths and bicycle paths, spaces for bicycle parking at train stations and major bus stops.  It also rewards projects that feature parks and sporting facilities.  The ‘Transport’ category in Green Star – Design & As Built has just one credit: ‘Sustainable Transport’.  Projects are rewarded for reduced car parking provision, low emission vehicle infrastructure and active transport facilities – such as bicycle parking. Projects also achieve points when they achieve a project ‘walk score’ of 70 or more.

We instinctively understand that a walkable neighbourhood is good for us.  Acclaimed urban planner Larry Beasley, who will explore how we can ‘rekindle the urban love affair’ at Green Cities 2015, says people are most captivated by communities that are “walkable, easy to service and well-connected to transport.”  This is reflected in property prices, with home values in Sydney's most walkable neighbourhoods outperforming the rest of the market in recent years, and attracting premiums of up to 20 per cent.

Smart city governments are creating better connections between their constituents and their local communities.  The City of Sydney's blueprint for a “green, global and connected” future, recalling the earliest days of Paris, has a vision for people “able to walk to their village and find everything they need from local retailers and professional service providers.”  It’s the twenty minute city all over again – although this time, without the need to carry water.