We started this ebook in late July with a salon to thrash out the key issues around creating sustainable precincts.

By sustainable precincts we mean mixed-use greenfield, brownfield, infill or revitalisation projects that, because of their scale and mix, provide opportunities for greater connectivity, leading to greater sustainability, innovation, economic and social outcomes.

We knew it would be an intriguing topic. It turned out to be one of the most exciting you could think of – vast and highly subversive. Exciting because creating precincts – and they absolutely need to be sustainable – calls for the best and brightest. They need to be integrated, renewable with energy, sustainable with water and deliver on multiple complex needs for the community and economy.

Vast, because the challenge is so immense. No less than accommodating the influx of humanity that wants to live in cities. Fishermans Bend in Melbourne is a 40-year project. The Bays Precinct in Sydney, unveiled in an international summit in November, has 80 hectares of industrial waterfront land two kilometres from the CBD.

Subversive because more than anything it’s clear sustainable precincts mean everything has to change; we can’t build cities the way we used to. The old model of development – by single buildings or even clusters of buildings – does not apply. Nor governments handing down planning tablets from on high; today that’s a sure way to political extinction.

Subversive because the hardware of building cities is almost irrelevant. It’s the immaterial “software” of the city that will drive its success or failure, argues Ingo Kumic in an article in this book. This needs to factor in the new economic models emerging, part capitalist market and part collaborative commons, he says.

Subversive too because in the face of advancing climate change, it’s clear that with our future precincts we need to throw out the old concept of sustainability as a three-legged stool giving equal weighting to environment, social and economic outcomes. Environment needs to be at the top of a pyramid because without it we don’t get the benefits and joys of the other two.

This is not a comprehensive book on creating sustainable precincts. But it’s the start of a conversation we all need to have on creating our future cities. A job for us all.

A massive thanks to our supporting and deeply engaged co-lead sponsors AECOM and Flow Systems, and to supporting sponsor Waverley Council, without whose help and encouragement this project would not have been possible.

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