There’s momentum building around greener cities, with representatives from more than 50 groups across the built environment sector this week descending on Parliament House to meet with all three major political parties and hold the Living Cities Workshop.
The event was organised by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects in partnership with Engineers Australia. AILA president Daniel Bennett said the fact his chief executive Shanana McKenzie could bring so many people together in under 20 days showed how strong support was for greener, more sustainable and better planned urban environments.
Speaking from the event, he told The Fifth Estate Ms McKenzie was motivated to initiate the workshop and alliance after Greg Hunt’s speech to a business breakfast in Sydney about the need to increase tree canopy in our cities.
More than 90 people attended, ranging from turf growers and arborists to leaders from the Australian Institute of Architects, CSIRO Land and Water, Planning Institute of Australia, ASBEC, the Green Building Council of Australia, AIRAH, the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors, Landcare and UDIA.
The day kicked off with speeches by Liberal MP Paul Fletcher on behalf of environment minister Greg Hunt, Greens MP Adam Bandt and Labor’s shadow minister for cities and infrastructure Anthony Albanese. Kate Lynch from the government’s Cities Taskforce also delivered a keynote.
Amid a workshop with all industry stakeholders, and general events, EcoDistricts’s Adam Beck provided digital surveys and feeback.
The Living Cities Workshop aimed to assess the current and future needs of cities and create a collaborative planning through a new Living Cities Alliance that will focus on providing informed and strategic input into government policy on cities, with 20 members already signing up. An action plan and report for will got to Mr Hunt’s department ahead of the government’s Cities Policy Forum Position Paper and Summit in March.
Mr Bennett said the groups are all keen to share in a “once in a generation” opportunity to influence government policy at the highest level.
“What strikes me is there is a commonality of wanting the right outcomes for green infrastructure,” Mr Bennett said.
Green infrastructure is more than just trees, he said. It is also a retail strategy, a biodiversity strategy, a public domain strategy, water management strategy and a social equity strategy.
“It’s more than just canopy cover or water; it’s everything that goes under that umbrella of creating healthier cities.”
He said there was a “definite will to really align some thinking”.
“It is helpful, these forums where industry talks to government and starts developing a narrative. They probably don’t hear from us enough.”
Green Building Council of Australia chief executive Romilly Madew said she was delighted to participate in the workshop.
“t was particularly heartening to see the federal government engage with the industry on how we can invest in the green infrastructure our cities need to become more sustainable, productive and liveable,” she said. “The spirit of collaboration and commitment to creating a national green infrastructure policy – which is what we should be aiming for – is inspiring.”
Jonathan Russell, head of public affairs for Engineers Australia, said his organisation became involved because its membership includes about 60,000 engineers who plan and deliver cities and infrastructure.
Under the EA charter, the members aim to advance the profession for the good of the community, and can deliver on that mandate with cities, he said.
“We can utilise our expert groups like the college of environmental engineering and the sustainability committee,” Mr Russell said.
“We want to help create cities people want to live in, as opposed to those they have to live in because that’s where the employment is.
“Cities are here for us, let’s make them work for us.”
The twitter feed from the event saw #livingcitiesau trending in the top 10 hashtags around Australia throughout the day. Tweets picked up key themes including the emphasis many speakers placed on whole-of-precinct planning rather than just the delivery of single buildings. They also picked up on the need to deliver quality design, because some of the dreadful examples of density people are seeing is not helping convince them it can work.
Greening cities should not simply be about planting trees. Green infrastructure 2 harness multiple ecosystem services #livingcitiesau
— Tony Wong, CRCWSC (@tonywong_crc) February 10, 2016
Among the new alliance members was CRC for Low Carbon Living.
Professor John Boland, program leader for low carbon precincts for the CRC, told The Fifth Estate, “One of the messages from Anthony Albanese and Adam Bandt is that what we’re having to get to in Australia is the concept of holistic planning.
“That means low carbon precincts. We need to figure out how to make cities comfortable, liveable, energy-efficient and green in terms of not only tree canopy but also energy and water.”
This would also have health benefits.
The benefit green infrastructure has in terms of sucking up carbon to mitigate climate change is a “second order effect” he said. The real focus is on adaptation rather than just mitigation in an urban heat island environment.
He said the CRCLCL joining the alliance is in keeping with its goals, which include influencing policy and joining with “people of like mind.”
There was also a need to influence the community, and some of the groups present had a greater degree of connection to the community than many peak bodies, Professor Boland said. Local councils, in particular, could be very influential. Representatives from Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney City Councils were all there, as was representation from the Australian Local Government Association and ICLEI.
“Adam Bandt said we have to motivate the community to force the government to change the policies [that need changing]
“You’ve got to really work with the community, and consult with them. We need to have a coalition with the community.”
Green Building Council of Australia chief executive Romilly Madew said: “We support the formation of the Living Cities Alliance, and we were delighted to participate in yesterday’s workshop. It was particularly heartening to see the federal government engage with the industry on how we can invest in the green infrastructure our cities need to become more sustainable, productive and liveable. The spirit of collaboration and commitment to creating a national green infrastructure policy – which is what we should be aiming for – is inspiring.
“The Green Building Council of Australia will be supporting national, state and local efforts to advance green infrastructure through the use of Green Star – Communities, to which AILA was a significant contributor. Green Star – Communities can help drive green infrastructure investment.”
” More green infrastructure in our cities will help us adapt to a changing climate and build resilience, with the additional benefits of promoting healthy and active living. Market transformation rating tools like Green Star – Communities will undoubtedly be critical support mechanisms to ensure the aspirations of the Alliance become real-world actions.”
Executive manager, government relations and technical services of AIRAH, Phil Wilkinson, said: “It was important for AIRAH to have a seat at the table of the Living Cities Workshop for a number of reasons. It is critical to have engineering thinking in the design of our cities. Mechanical engineers, and in particular AIRAH members, play a huge hidden part the built environment’s ecosystem. So many aspects of city design are impacted by the work our members do.
“Better planning and integrated design means smaller, more efficient HVAC systems, which means less energy and water use.
“A lower ambient temperature in cities means improved energy efficiency of operating plant, so that it lasts longer. It also means less heat from building facades, and improved comfort in liveable spaces.
“Increasingly designers are looking to integrate sustainable elements such as cogeneration or trigeneration at a precinct level. Mechanical engineers simply must be involved in these kinds of conversations. We are an essential part of the process.”
AILA’s invitation list for the Living Cities Workshop:
- Australian Institute of Landscape Architects
- Engineers Australia
- Planning Institute of Australia
- Green Building Council of Australia
- Consult Australia
- Australian Institute of Architects
- Council of Capital City Lord Mayors
- Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia
- Horticulture Innovation Australia
- 202020 vision
- National Australia Bank
- CSIRO Land and Water
- Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub, University of Melbourne
- Australian Government, Department of Environment
- CRC Low Carbon Living
- CRC for Water Sensitive Cities
- National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility
- Landcare Australia
- Green Roofs Australia
- Australian Local Government Association
- Parks & Leisure Australia
- Landscaping Victoria
- Rainwater Harvesting Association of Australia
- Water Services Association of Australia
- City of Melbourne
- Do It On The Roof
- LNA Master Landscapers Association
- University of Technology Sydney, Institute for Sustainable Futures
- Australian Bicycle Council