Election over: Now here’s what we need to deliver greener, healthier, more liveable cities 
Photo by mahdis mousavi on Unsplash

Greener, liveable and healthier cities isn’t a panacea for societal ails, but it very well might be the closest thing we’ve got. Liveability of our cities and towns is an area of great need but mostly overlooked, so often sidelined to the dominance of infrastructure funding in public discourse. 

It was missing from the election conversation until the very end when Labour announced their plan for cities on Wednesday last week. And now the hope has been vanquished to deliver the vision of cities focused on “productivity, sustainability and liveability while ensuring they are places of opportunity for everyone.”

So, when the dust settles on the win, here’s a snapshot of what the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects will continue to advocate for with the re-appointed government.

We must have a National Living Infrastructure Strategy to address the considerable issues you’re well familiar with: Climate change, public health, density and growth. Funding alone cannot deliver what Australians deserve.

Record-breaking extreme heat events across the country and affecting our cities dominated this summer’s news cycle and water-cooler conversations. Most media reportage finally conceded climate change and increasing urbanisation were to blame. 

A significant but invisible solution to these social, environmental and health issues is living infrastructure: where we build with nature, through an ecological framework for the social, economic and environmental health of our surroundings.

The introduction of more trees and green roofs in urban spaces could reduce surface temperatures by up to 40 per cent, though urban forests are still being overlooked as a critical tool to not only combat rising energy costs and emissions, but also billions in lost productivity and the deadly consequences of climate variability, which is rising. 

Why are these solutions being overlooked? 

We have tried and tested cooling strategies to hand, but they aren’t being delivered because we lack the national vision to do so.

In regard to public health, the Australian Medical Association considers obesity the biggest public health challenge facing the Australian population. It called on the federal government to take national leadership in implementing a multi-faceted strategy to address the serious health threat that obesity poses to individuals, families, and communities across the nation.

Living infrastructure can:

  • Mitigate against climate change
  • Provide settlement patterns that can better respond to increasing temperatures and resilient to climate variability
  • Provide settlement patterns that are attractive and energy efficient, and promote settlement outside of cities by having high amenity
  • Encourage outdoor activity and recreation to improve our public health

Around the world, we can see how cities that have incorporated living infrastructure strategies into planning and development have greatly improved their social, economic and environmental performance. 

In Australia, the challenges of growing our cities while reducing our carbon footprint will demand new forms of infrastructure development and land management in our metropolitan regions.  

The development of a National Living Infrastructure Strategy will provide guidance towards legislative frameworks and collaborative approaches between different levels of government to help address these challenges in a cost-effective and socially responsible manner. 

It will recognise the economic and social value of protecting and enhancing high-value urban and peri-urban landscapes for water management, fresh food production, biodiversity conservation, and healthy active living.

The federal government has an opportunity to provide leadership through Infrastructure Australia to bring together key stakeholders, state and local governments, industry bodies and community representatives to develop a National Living Infrastructure Strategy to secure the future of our settlement and societies. 

We are not alone in seeing this opportunity; peak industry bodies, local government, and academics have developed an alliance with 40 organisations putting their support behind this cause, at the ready to support the new government to make this happen. 

Let’s make sure when we plan for the infrastructure needs to our communities that we are making them vibrant, healthy and climate-friendly places to live, not just have great, accessible roads to get us in and out of them.

Shaun Walsh is the president of Australian Institute of Landscape Architects.

Spinifex is an opinion column open to all, so called because it’s at the “spiky” end of sustainability. If you would like to contribute, we require 700+ words. For a more detailed brief and style guide please email editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

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