24 November 2011 “In 1960 we saw a change of paradigm – towards more automobile-centred cities,” Danish architect and urban designer Jan Gehl told the audience at the State of Green – Denmark Forum earlier this week.

“In 2010 we saw another change of paradigm – towards more people-centred cities.”

In Copenhagen, where Gehl is based, 37 per cent of people journey to work by bicycle. A third use public transport, 27 per cent use the car and five per cent walk.

Compare this to Australia, where three quarters of adults living in capital cities use private motor vehicles as their main form of transport to work. Just 19 per cent used public transport, and a measly five per cent walked OR cycled.

Gehl was in Sydney to share his vision of a liveable city. Over the course of his career, he has focused on improving the quality of urban life by re-orienting city design towards the pedestrian and cyclist.

Gehl’s vision resonates with the Green Building Council of Australia, which expects to launch the Green Star – Communities pilot rating tool in early 2012.

We are currently working with every level of government, every government land organisation across the country, private sector leaders and other industry associations and peak bodies.The rating tool, which has been tested by 28 projects around Australia, is based upon five national principles: liveability, economic prosperity, environmental responsibility, design excellence and visionary leadership and governance.

We have developed 38 draft credits by which communities can be assessed, looking at the relationships between infrastructure, buildings, public realm, people, ecology, economy, governance and services.

The focus on Australia’s cities will continue to intensify as our population grows and infrastructure and resources are stretched. Indeed, last month’s “State of Australian Cities 2011” report from the Australian Government showed that our major cities continue to experience strong population growth. Of the three million people added to the population between 2001 and 2010, major cities absorbed 81 per cent.

Robin Mellon

To paraphrase Gil Penalosa, who transformed his own city of Bogota, we have learnt to survive in our cities, now we must learn to live. We hope Green Star – Communities will be a tool to drive a new understanding of livability.

As Jan Gehl said on Monday: “We do not have to think and act as 1960s traffic engineers for ever – the times are changing and so should we.”

Robin Mellon is executive director, advocacy and international, Green Building Council of Australia