Gold Coast, Queensland

Our conversation about the built environment has clearly shifted.

Twelve months ago the individual building still loomed large in our debates about green.  At the recent Green Cities 2010 conference co-hosted by the Green Building Council of Australia and Property Council of Australia in Melbourne, however, the focus had broadened and the task of greening our precincts, communities and cities was high on the agenda.

In his opening remarks at the conference, the chief executive officer of the PCA Peter Verwer told the audience that “cities will save the planet.”

This may seem like a bold statement, but it was clear from the threads running throughout the conference that our cities provide many opportunities to change the bleak future we face if we continue on our business-as-usual trajectory.

Currently, this trajectory will deliver potentially catastrophic climate change, inadequate infrastructure, poor transport services and decreasing liveability for the vast number of Australians.

In fact, within 30 years we can expect transport-related greenhouse gas emissions to increase by as much as 75 per cent, according to the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council which released its Cities for the future report at Green Cities 2010.  By 2041, urban centres will become more transport intensive and less transport efficient, effectively adding 25 per cent to travel times.

I chair the ASBEC taskforce responsible for delivering the report, and our message is simple: without clear, decisive action from governments we should prepare to spend a lot more time in the car.

The Cities for the future report reveals that the shape of our cities and the distribution of land uses can influence transport and therefore emissions.  And therein lies the opportunity: by raising sustainability and reducing emissions, we are likely to realise other tangible benefits, such as healthier communities, more accessible services, appropriate responses to demographic change, and more efficient use of land and infrastructure.

The GBCA has been on the front foot in the cities debate, and proudly launched the Green Star Communities framework at the conference.  The framework outlines five key principles – liveability, economic prosperity, environmental quality, place making and urban governance – which will inform the development of the Green star Communities rating tool later this year.  The framework can be downloaded from the GBCA website and is open for comment.

Victorian Premier John Brumby reminded us that we live in “a climate of opportunity”.  While the task has never been greater, it was clear from the energy, ideas and commitment of those attending Green Cities 2010 that we can ensure we leave behind a built environment that is as good – or better – than what went before.