Sod turning everywhere. Pictured: Susan Lloyd Hurwitz, Mirvac and David Pitchford, UrbanGrowth NSW at Green Square Town Centre this week

What a week of massive action it’s been. Shovels everywhere it seems: Green Square, south of Sydney, Martin Place in the CBD, Parramatta to the west and in Melbourne there’s a new plan for redevelopment of the amazing Queen Vic Markets.

All of these either already have a strong eye on better and more sustainable development, or had better do so if they want to quell the inevitable angst of the citizens who are leery of any urban upheaval, sometimes in the extreme, and often with very good reason if you look at the track record.

Some of this new development under way is aspirational. Now that’s a word that hasn’t been out of the box much in recent times.

According to Haico Schepers, principal building physics with Arup, however, that’s what’s happening.

Right now, Schepers said, he has “one or two briefs” trying to push all the cost constraints and going for aspirational targets with six star Nabers.

In particular, there is 60 Martin Place by Investa, currently on the sales block (or part of it anyway) and there’s another in Alfred Street in Sydney.

The appetite for sustainability is on the up again, Schepers said. “We’ve gone through the curve of disillusionment and it’s now on the upswing of moderate optimism.”

He explained: it’s in line with the famous innovation curve, where there’s first optimism, followed by disillusionment and then more sophisticated improvement in the innovation and uptake.

“I think with any innovation there are failures and risks and it takes a while for people to work their way back through.”

It’s pretty much what new sustainability chief at UrbanGrowth NSW Matt Plumbridge told us about with his experience with CH2 headquarters for the City of Melbourne in the earliest days of the green building movement.

There’s a great story in that, with Plumbridge remembering some almost hostile attacks from the sceptics because that building was pushing so many boundaries, from black water and sewage harvesting to mist-based cooling.

Of course there were problems, of course new technology or design thinking doesn’t work out brilliantly or even sometimes properly at first, but in line with its duty as a government agency, the City of Melbourne acted as a leader and did what leaders do. It took measured risk to explore new and better way to do things and create a roadmap for others to follow and improve on.

Naturally we hope that at his new gig Plumbridge can push more boundaries. Certainly it’s in his job description and with seven huge projects on the go, and as a government agency, it really is beholden on this behemoth to set a cracking green agenda. This industry badly needs it and it will be a critical part of the mix that can hope to quell community anxiety and on these projects, some already controversial.

Citizens juries

But what would an urban planning scenario be without plenty of community angst?

A good idea is to listen. The huge inroads underway in community participation is a brilliant signpost of how to tackle the challenges. This week Willow brings us another citizen’s jury story, this time from Adelaide, following one a citizen’s jury in Melbourne last year and ahead of the results of yet another in Marrickville in Sydney.

More good news from the north

There’s even (and already) some better news coming from Brisbane where the words sustainability, green and clean have been let out of jail and are now free to roam the streets at will. Goodness knows what anarchic outbreak of wild clean energy and sustainability the Queenslanders will see now. Heard on the grapevine and certainly not for publication until next week is that a most conservative sector of the development industry in our northern state is ready to announce an exciting sustainability agenda. The equivalent of a fusillade of flowers to be dropped on the populace beneath.

The fossil fuellers must be wringing their hands with coal dust.

Speaking of Queensland Jeff Angel, chief executive of the Total Environment Centre was hugely amusing this week when he quipped that the troops in the north are feeling much better than they have for along time. In particular because the Palszczuk government has made a load of commitments and policies that “if they had thought they would win the election they probably never would have.”

Isn’t democracy a wonderful thing (when it’s in your favour)?

In NSW with the upcoming election on 28 March, Angel thought the Baird government had “stopped the rot”. “It’s still got a big fight on big issues like bio-diversity but it does seem to have engineered the word climate action back in to government vernacular,” he said.

Angel was less sure about the plan to sell the poles and wires. “I’m wary of selling monopolies.” Along with many other folks he thought the nature of the contract governing the sale was the most important issue and there’s plenty of history to show that the taxpayers have a habit of coming out very badly in these.

We’d actually called Angel to ask about another bit of good news, around solar.

There’s been some hugely optimistic views coming through on solar that the experts say is now building to critical mass – that is, the genie is out of the bottle, can’t be put back.

We’d heard something about a community solar company looking to colonise the roofs along the Harris Street, Pyrmont corridor for solar photovoltaics, potentially to sell to neighbours and perhaps city businesses where the sun doesn’t shine.

Angel seemed to be struggling for a while to keep up with the mushrooming sustainability enterprises his team are cooking up through Green Capital, but after a bit of prodding he pointed us on to the new team, Smart Locale, which is indeed investigating the possibilities with community groups. Looking forward to that bright idea gaining traction.

What a nice position to be in – to not keep up with all the good news.