Cities and communities: Sustainable planning and development
Australia’s cities are where most of us live, work and play. Home to more than three quarters of our population, our cities also account for 80 per cent of employment and GDP. They are truly the nation’s powerhouses of productivity.
Our cities are facing unprecedented pressures on their transport, utility and social infrastructure, as well as population and demographic shifts and climate change. Put simply, our cities are at the frontline of Australia’s future prosperity and international competitiveness, yet face constantly increasing demands.
The way our cities are planned has an enormous impact on our economy, our wellbeing and our environment. As a result, the focus on them has intensified in recent years. The release of the National Urban Policy in 2011 was an important milestone - for the first time a federal government sought to outline its overarching goals for Australia’s cities and how it will play a role in making them more productive, liveable and sustainable.
Until now, urban planning and development has tended to focus on ‘hard infrastructure’ - roads and railways, ports, power and telecommunications, water and waste. Certainly, sustainability considerations have had significant implications for the design and operation of hard infrastructure through improved public transport networks, management of storm water and sewerage systems, and the conservation of energy and water.
However, a city is much more than its hard infrastructure. Cities are social as well as physical environments. ‘Soft infrastructure’ such as health, education and employment services, recreation and cultural facilities – essentially, the infrastructure that facilitates social relationships – are just as vital.
Urban planning and design must integrate these elements and incorporate both the soft and hard infrastructure to create communities that are truly sustainable.
In February, the Australian Green Infrastructure Council (AGIC) launched the nation’s first infrastructure sustainability rating scheme. The Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) rating scheme measures the sustainability of infrastructure projects and assets across the ‘triple bottom line’ of economic, environmental and social criteria.
The scheme can be applied to a broad range of infrastructure types, such as roads and bridges, ports, harbours and airports, energy infrastructure, water storage and supply, communication transmission and distribution. Fifteen categories across six broad themes cover environmental impacts such as energy and carbon, social issues such as stakeholder participation, and management issues such as procurement and purchasing.
The rating tool covers the infrastructure lifecycle, from project design to operating asset. Three ratings are available:
1 Design ratings awarded at the end of the design process after assessment of the sustainability of design and planning for construction.
2 As Built ratings which assess design, measure sustainability performance during construction and constructed infrastructure assets. These ratings may be awarded after a project’s practical completion.
3 Operation ratings which assess measured sustainability performance of operating infrastructure assets. Both new projects and existing infrastructure assets are eligible to apply for an Operation rating.
The IS scheme is being embraced by industry, and AGIC is working with both governments and private developers across Australia to ensure it becomes a common, national framework included within infrastructure tenders.
At the same time, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) has been developing the Green Star – Communities rating tool to assess and certify the sustainability of community-level development projects. Released in June, Green Star – Communities benchmarks and rewards developments by assessing them against the categories of: liveability; economic prosperity; environment; community design; governance; and innovation.
Green Star – Communities assesses environmental issues – such as minimising energy and water consumption, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, managing waste and reducing dependence on motor vehicles. However, the rating tool also reaches beyond environmental efficiencies to broader holistic sustainability issues, such as economic prosperity, liveability and health.
With support from industry and all three tiers of government, Green Star –Communities will also improve the long-term sustainability of soft infrastructure. The ‘Liveability’ category, for instance, rewards projects that encourage healthy, active communities through parks, playgrounds, cycle ways and footpaths, as well as through local food production.
The ‘Economic Prosperity’ category encourages projects to consider proximity to employment and education opportunities, and access to high speed internet. Srategies for improving housing affordability, developing local skills and enhancing investment in community infrastructure are also encouraged.
Natural synergies exist between the IS and Green Star – Communities rating tools: both comprise a practical framework, formal assessment process, rating certification and education program. Both have been designed to drive incremental improvement and innovation, reduce risk and validate the industry’s achievements through thirdparty certification. Both transform words and policies into results with ‘on the ground’ action.
It’s clear that AGIC and GBCA share a common mission to advance sustainability in the design, construction and operation of Australia’s built environment. We’re committed to working collaboratively to further our joint mission to ensure the best outcomes for industry, government and all Australians. Application of the two rating schemes to the built environment in cities will enhance their liveability, sustainability and prosperity and will improve the lives of their citizens.
Green Building Council of Australia
Australian Green Infrastructure Council
First published by Consulting Matters.
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