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Romilly Madew: Grand designs for green communities

"I thought legislation was the key to a bright sustainable future," Grand Designs' Kevin McCloud told the audience at the Green Building Council of Australia's recent Leading Green Thinkers event, sponsored by Leighton Properties.

"But it's not. It's people like you," he said.

Never have I seen so many women - and men - going weak at the knees over a built environment professional! It was a real thrill for the industry to welcome Kevin to Sydney and to hear his thoughts on a range of topics from social sustainability to how the UK has gone from being the "green goblin to the green hero" of Europe.

While Kevin is best known for his work on the series Grand Designs, he has also been a consistent supporter and advocate of sustainability and good quality, green building for more than a decade.

He is particularly passionate about delivering highly sustainable, affordable and liveable housing to benefit both the community and the environment around it.

In fact, he told our audience that "buildings are only about 40 per cent of the sustainability equation. It's the stuff between the houses that forms the sustainable community."

Kevin spoke about "the public realm being a kick-starter for social sustainability" - and that a sustainable community was to be found in the kitchen gardens, parks and playgrounds, bicycle and car clubs, streets built for people, fruit trees and edible hedgerows, water saving strategies and social spaces for children and adults alike.

Kevin pointed to Dharavi in Mumbai - one of the world's largest slums housing more than a million people - as an example of a community with a "low standard of living but a high quality of life."


"Because the people who live in Dharavi gain much from sharing their resources," he said.

High quality of life is an integral aspect of any sustainable community, but one that can appear to be ephemeral. The Green Star - Communities project hopes to change this. Thirty seven draft credits have been developed for the Green Star - Communities tool, some of which assess liveability, health and wellbeing. These credits have been tested on 32 projects around Australia. When the PILOT tool is released in 2012, we hope to provide the industry with a set of benchmarks for some of these less tangible 'quality of life' concepts.

"When well-designed and well-built, people enjoy their buildings and their communities. As a result, people want to stay," Kevin said. "There is less churn, less mobility and people make enduring connections with and contributions to their communities."

It's a simple but a timely reminder that people should always be front-and-centre of any new building, development or community.