Good ideas are Go – and Green

Move over Sydney’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas (Opera House, 3-4 October), this green urban revolution is getting way more interesting –  generating safe ideas (for the planet) but ideas that are also exciting, fun and creative.

OK, for some old dinosaurs there could be some danger too.

In Melbourne, the city council’s urban planning guru, Rob Adams, reckons that with clever thinking and no new infrastructure you can fit another 2.4 million people along existing tram and bus routes.— on only 6 per cent of the 1.5 million metropolitan sites examined, leaving 94 per cent development free. Now that’s certainty. See the full story here.

Also in Melbourne, a most interesting crowd of 11 people has emerged, with a website called Urban Coup (don’t you love the name?) and its logo is, yes, a chicken coop, to signify they want to build themselves a housing development with a big difference —  new land titles, shared garden sheds, vegie patches, lawnmowers and even sewing machines, but with houses you can buy and sell in the normal way.

Urban Coup meeting including members: Alex Fearnside, Takako Shitanaka, Sandra Eterovic, Andrew Walker-Morison, Scott Willey, Debra Blackmore, Carrie White, Karen Deegan

“It’s not hippies. Or rich hippies,” says Karen Deegan, a spokeswoman for the group, most of whose members work in the “built industry.” And it’s not just about designing a green building, either. “That’s a walk in the park to us.

“We can easily decrease our carbon and water usage. But what’s left off the built environment space is food and where it’s produced” (and, yes, Deegan knows our sustainable food agitator and regular columnist on many other subjects of agitation, Michael Mobbs, aka The Bathurst Burr).

Another thing is the sharing of intellectual property, so that only one person has to research the best washing powder, for instance. There might also be an agreement to jointly provide some low-cost housing among the group, or undertake some other shared beneficial activity where the burden is less because it’s shared by 24 people.

Deegan says the idea is far from new. It’s been around since the 1960s in Denmark, which has more than 120 such housing developments and where 10 per cent of all new housing is the co-housing model.

The US has about 20 co-housing developments, with another 100 or so in train. “We’ve done a stock take of the type of people who live in these and they are mainly the cultural creatives… It’s something that appeals to quite a large section of the community,” says Deegan.

The group is looking for more people, to a maximum of 25, which Deegan says is considered a good “human scale” for group dynamics —  plus a lawyer, an accountant and a builder. Oh,  and a site, to kick off the project.

“We’ve got five sites earmarked and we’ve got feasibility studies ready to go,” says Deegan.

The prospectus is available at

At the Westwyck development in Melbourne’s Brunswick Mike Hill and his partner, Lorna Pitt, are embarking on stage two of a development that has similarities to Urban Coup in its shared arrangements for bike sheds, clotheslines and vegie gardens.

Hill says because the phase-one townhouses all sold for strong market prices, it has attracted interest from conventional developers who are very interested in how the scheme works. What they can see, says Hill, is that they can improve the value of developments as a whole by offering bigger common land and facilities without having to enlarge the sites.


The Green Building Council’s chief executive, Romilly Madew, can’t believe the momentum of activity that is building as government regulations and policies gather their heads of steam on everything from building regulations to carbon disclosure.  See our coverage of the Property Council’s Carbon Obligation seminar for a full rundown

“Everything is moving so quickly,” says Madew. “Every state now has a minister for climate change, and on the regulation side it’s really ramping up. I’m literally spending every week now in a plane on some issue relating to government.”

Corporates too. It’s not enough to be “doing something…they all now need to be reporting what they are doing on sustainability,” she says.

And the global financial crisis, instead of slowing things down on the green building front, is instead intensifying competition.

“With high vacancy rates, the only way to differentiate your asset is by going green,” says Madew.

“People wanting to avoid having a toxic asset as that asset becomes uncompetitive.”

The council will soon have a new tool for public buildings and another “custom” tool similar to the UK’s “bespoke” tool for tricky buildings, such as a retirement village or healthcare facility.

The Fifth Estate – sustainable property news

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