We have the blueprint for liveable, low-carbon cities. We just need to use it



Increasing heat in Sydney and other Australian cities highlights the urgent need to apply our knowledge of how to create liveable low-carbon cities.
Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock

Deo Prasad, UNSW

Over the past seven years more than 100 research projects at the Co-operative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living, in collaboration with industry across Australia, have pondered a very big question: How do we build future cities that are sustainable, liveable and affordable?

This is exactly what Australians want, as the recent Greater Sydney Commission report, The Pulse of Greater Sydney, revealed. People want cities in which they live close to jobs and have reasonable commuting times. They want access to parks and green space, and relief from ever-increasing urban heat.




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The good news is we already know what it will take to deliver on much of this wish list. Since 2012, I have headed the A$100 million Low Carbon Living CRC, which has brought together Australian businesses, industries, communities and many of our brightest researchers to work out how to steer change.

Our Cooling Sydney Strategy, for instance, is the result of years of research into how to combat urban heatwaves. The burden of this heat is unevenly spread across our cities.

For example, residents of Sydney’s western suburbs are exposed to many more days hotter than 35 degrees than Sydneysiders living in the CBD and the city’s north. Last summer that meant over a month’s worth of intense heat in the suburb of Penrith, including nine days in a row above 35°C.




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Building cool cities for a hot future


While the recent winter sun might feel welcome, the negative impacts of increasingly hot cities on our health, lifestyle and energy use greatly outweigh any winter comfort.

So what are the solutions?

Our researchers have already found how we can offset increasing heat. The strategies includes cool and permeable pavements, water features and evaporative cooling, shade structures, vertical gardens, street trees and other plants – even special heat refuge stations.

Keeping cool inside, without huge power bills, is possible too. During last summer’s heatwave, our pilot 10-star energy-efficient house in Perth remained a comfortable 24°C inside, without air conditioning, when it was over 40°C outside. The exceptional thermal performance of the house was down to its evidence-based design.

Josh Byrne explains how his house keeps temperatures comfortable year-round with low energy use and no net emissions.



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This work is just one part of our wider remit. Our UNSW-based centre is on track to deliver independently verified cuts of 10 megatonnes of carbon emissions generated by Australia’s built environment by 2020. By integrating renewable energy systems, smart technologies, low-carbon materials and people-centred design into buildings and urban precincts, we have developed a sustainable, liveable and affordable urban blueprint for Australia. A PwC study (yet to be released) estimated cumulative economic benefits totalling A$684 million by 2027.

To put this another way, we have identified and verified evidence-based pathways to cut emissions equivalent to taking some 2.1 million cars off the road.




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Some of the progress to date is not immediately obvious to the casual observer. Take an otherwise unremarkable stretch of road along the back way to Sydney Airport. Recently, a 30-metre section of concrete was installed, which looks more like an ad hoc road repair than an important scientific pilot study.

Bu 15 metres is paved with a new geopolymer concrete that slashes greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. The other 15 metres is conventional concrete, the most widely used man-made material on the planet. Concrete production, using cement as its binder, accounts for about 8% of all global emissions.

The geopolymer concrete developed through our research centre is a similarly high-performance product but its binder safely incorporates otherwise noxious industrial waste streams, such as fly ash from coal-fired power stations and slag from blast furnaces. Australia has stockpiled about 400 million tonnes of waste from coal-fired power generation and steelmaking.

In Alexandria, in collaboration with the City of Sydney, we are testing this low-carbon concrete as a road surface that could help clean up industrial waste while slashing emissions. Working with NSW Ports, we’ve also shaped it into low-carbon bollards to form a breakwater to protect the coastline at Port Kembla from extreme weather.

Waste from coal-fired power stations has been used to make low-carbon bollards to protect the coastline at Port Kembla.

We now have the know-how to do better

There are many such success stories, but with 150 CRC Low Carbon Living projects the list is too long to detail. What’s more important, as our funding period comes to an end and Australia loses its only innovation hub committed to lowering carbon in the built environment, is to note how we got to where we are today.

The federal government’s Co-operative Research Centre program fosters co-operation and collaboration on a grand scale. Industries, businesses, government organisations and communities with a stake in solving big, complex challenges partner with researchers from a wide range of academic fields. This structure brings together sectors and people whose paths might otherwise rarely cross.

The cross-fertilisation of ideas, expertise and skills delivers innovative solutions. Research worldwide has consistently shown that collaboration drives innovation, and that innovation drives economic growth. Our experience confirms that as we partnered with organisations such as Multiplex, AECOM, BlueScope Steel, Sydney Water, ISCA, CSIRO and the United Nations Environment Program.

Cities are complex, exciting beasts, but we have the knowledge and expertise to live better, more comfortable urban lives in Australia while reducing demand for energy, water and materials. That is, we have the blueprint for low-carbon urban living. We must now choose to use it.


This article has been updated to correct the number of CRC Low Carbon Living projects to 150 and the amount of stockpiled waste from coal-fired power generation and steelmaking to 400 million tonnes.The Conversation

Deo Prasad, Scientia Professor and CEO, Co-operative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Our legacy of liveable cities won’t last without a visionary response to growth



File 20180327 188613 1komx6d.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Historic investments in green open space along the Yarra created a legacy of liveability in Melbourne.
Ispas Vlad/Shutterstock

Chris Chesterfield, Monash University

Australia’s major cities are growing more rapidly than ever before, gaining three million residents in a decade. Concerns about the risks to their long-term liveability and health are growing too. Is the consistent placing of Australian cities at the top of most liveable city rankings a reason for complacency?

The fastest-growing city, Melbourne, is experiencing unprecedented growth and yet has topped The Economist Intelligence Unit global liveability ranking for seven years running. However, much like Australia’s remarkable record of 26 years of continuous economic growth, many of the policy and institutional reforms that delivered this liveability legacy occurred decades ago.




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Australia is now undergoing its third great wave of population growth, putting pressure on infrastructure, services and the environment. During the past two waves of growth, in the late-19th and mid-20th centuries, cities implemented visionary responses. It’s largely because of these past phases of planning and investment that our cities have until now been able to sustain their liveability and a reasonably healthy natural environment.

A third wave of planning and investment in open space and green infrastructure is now needed to underpin liveability as our cities grow. The past offers important lessons about what made Melbourne, in particular, so liveable.

Can we repeat the leadership of yesterday?

In the early 19th century, European settlers ignored and displaced the Indigenous knowledge and connections with country. What grew in their place were initially little more than shambolic frontier towns.

In the Port Phillip colony, the gold rush, the subsequent population and property booms and the lack of city services led to Melbourne gaining an international reputation as “Smellbourne”.

But then, over several decades, visionary plans set aside a great, green arc of parklands and tree-lined boulevards around the city grid.

Melbourne constructed one of the world’s earliest sewerage systems. The forested headwaters of the Yarra River were reserved for water supply. Melbourne is today one of a handful of major cities in the world drawing its natural water supplies from closed catchments.

And so, together with profound social and cultural changes, the shambolic frontier town transformed into “Marvellous Melbourne”. Sydney and Australia’s other capital cities followed similar trajectories.




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Then came the world wars and intervening Great Depression. These were times of austerity and sacrifice. Remarkably little investment in open space and green infrastructure occurred over these decades.

The 1956 Melbourne Olympics was perhaps the event that signalled the awakening from that somewhat bleak period. It was again time for optimism and vision, with the post-war population boom well under way.

Australia’s population was booming at the time of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, with growth averaging 2.7% a year from 1945-1960 (the 2007-17 average is 1.7%).
Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå/Wikimedia

The 1954 Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Scheme reflected this growing optimism and highlighted the potential for a network of open spaces across the rapidly expanding city. But it took time to build momentum for its implementation.

By the 1970s sprawling development had virtually doubled the metropolitan area of Melbourne. Services such as the sewerage system had not kept up. The Yarra and other waterways and Port Phillip Bay were becoming grossly polluted. There was community pressure to tackle pollution caused by industry and unsewered suburbs.

In 1971, the Victorian Environment Protection Authority, the second EPA in the world, was created to regulate industry. State and federal governments made a huge investment in sewering the suburbs.

The city’s planners revived the earlier vision for Melbourne’s open space network, along with the idea of green wedges and development corridors. Greater prosperity and community expectation secured the investment needed to deliver it.

Historic decisions to protect the Yarra River have had lasting benefits for Melbourne.
Dorothy Chiron/Shutterstock

The 1971 metropolitan plan identified open-space corridors for waterways including the Yarra. Land began to be acquired to build this green network and the trail systems that connect it. Victoria became known as the “Garden State” in the 1970s.

This period stands out as the city’s second great wave of visionary planning and investment. It created the wonderful legacy of a world-class network of open space, much of it around waterways and Port Phillip Bay.

Where to today?

Sustaining or improving urban liveability is a massive challenge. It calls for a new vision and a commitment by governments to deliver it over many decades. Do we have policies and institutions capable of doing this?

Rather than “shaping” our cities, many state institutions are dominated by cost and efficiency goals that drive a “city servicing” mindset.

Melbourne, for instance, is in danger of exhausting the legacy of the last “city shaping” phase of visionary planning and investment. This all but ended in the 1980s.

By 1992, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works had been abolished. It once had responsibility for town planning, parks, waterways and floodplain management as well as water and sewerage services. It used the Metropolitan Improvement Fund (raised from city-wide property levies) to plan and deliver the city’s green infrastructure, including land acquisitions.

Where is the equivalent capability today? Our practitioners have the knowledge, skills and understanding to better plan for complex city needs, but this is not enough to shape a better future for coming generations. Without a vision and effective policies and institutions to deliver it, we risk ad hoc and wasteful decision-making and investment. The result will be poorer community well-being and less economic prosperity.




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The entrenched cost-efficiency or “city servicing” mindset is an all-too-narrow and short-term policy setting in an era of unprecedented urban population growth.

Expanding suburban fringes will lack amenity and a healthy environment, which may entrench disadvantage. Existing suburbs also need to improve quality, access and connectivity of public open space.

Green streetscapes, open space and tree cover are important for amenity. This includes countering urban heat in a warming climate. Co-ordinated investment in green infrastructure can also unlock new economic opportunities for our cities.

But, as the past has shown, little will happen without an effective city-shaping capability. Significant policy and institutional reforms, guided by a new vision, are essential to ensure a healthy environment, community well-being and the liveability and prosperity of our cities for decades to come.

The ConversationAlternatively, we may find ourselves tumbling down the ranks of world’s most liveable cities. Our best and brightest will be drawn to greener pastures while the world asks in astonishment, “How did they let that happen?”

Chris Chesterfield, Director Strategic Engagement, CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.