Future focus: Australian Institute of Landscape Architects call for new Living Infrastructure Strategy

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Future focus: Australian Institute of Landscape Architects call for new Living Infrastructure Strategy

In a bid to green our cities, the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) has proposed a 2019 Living Infrastructure Strategy and call for the support of the federal government and councils to build healthier, more sustainable communities.

Urban.com.au had a chat to AILA’S director Claire Martin and Australian National University Research Fellow Dr Andrew MacKenzie about the initiative – who explained how new infrastructure regulation could futureproof our cities from the impending effect of global warming, overpopulation, health complications and more.

Future focus: Australian Institute of Landscape Architects call for new Living Infrastructure Strategy

Urban.com.au: Which key features of a Living Infrastructure Strategy do you believe would be most pertinent to action immediately and why?

Claire Martin: Many of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architect’s recommendations and strategic priorities are reflected in the Building Up and Moving Out report that captures the findings of the House of Representatives Inquiry into the Australian Government’s role in the development of cities. The report provides a wealth of insights into how we can achieve better outcomes for Australians and Australians cities. The inquiry was bolstered by the high level of multi-partisan support of the members involved, demonstrating that good urban policy is a priority across the political parties. 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.

Urban.com.au: Are there many differences between the Green Infrastructure Strategy (2018) and a Living Infrastructure Strategy (2019)?

Claire Martin: The 2019 Greener, Liveable & Healthier Cities strategy is our federal election platform that embeds and advances previous strategies. The Australian Institute of Landscape Architect (AILA) is a members of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council’s Cities and Infrastructure Task Group our strategy is aligned with ASBEC’s 2019 Thriving Cities policy platform.

Urban.com.au: What is the funding share between ‘grey infrastructure’ and ‘green infrastructure’ currently?

Claire Martin: Whilst federal government expenditure is clearly defined there has been less clarity on green or living infrastructure expenditure both in terms of up-front costs, life-cycle costs as well as the valuation of ecosystems services benefits and contributions.  That’s why AILA supports is lobbying for multi-partisan support for the creation of a National Living Infrastructure Fund for an investment fund that would be established for the implementation of green infrastructure projects across Australia for allocation to state and local government green infrastructure projects. This fund could be operated similar to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which seeks to leverage private sector funding to enhance public benefit outcomes through government investment.

Urban.com.au: Which government parties/candidates are currently on board with your mission to create healthier cities?

Claire Martin: Infrastructure Australia’s Creating Places for People — an urban design protocol for Australian cities is the result of two years of collaboration between peak community and industry organisations and governments at all levels. It represents a commitment to best practice urban design and quality living spaces in Australia. AILA recommends re-endorsing the Protocol and providing federal funding for the purposes of maintaining and promoting the principles outlined in the protocol. AILA is a member of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Better Cities, established in 2014, is co-convened from the Government, Opposition and Cross Benches. The three co-conveners of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Better Cities are Mr Trent Zimmerman MP, Member for North Sydney, Mr Andrew Giles MP, Member for Scullin and Senator Jordan Steele-John, Senator for Western Australia. The Parliamentary Friendship Group for Better Cities seeks to work together to make Australia’s capital and major cities more liveable, more resilient and more productive.

Urban.com.au: What impact are issues surrounding city density, congestion and increased population having on Australia and what could be some ways to mitigate negative long-term effects?

Claire Martin: There are significant environmental and health effects of poor planning of Australian cities including: more than 3,000 premature deaths in Australia every year are related to urban air pollution, loss of biodiversity, nutrient loads make their way into waterways and can cause algal blooms and negative environmental effects, a reduction in wellbeing and workplace wellbeing and productivity, increased loneliness and social exclusion, escalating obesity, diabetes and skin cancer, and reduced fitness particularly in young children, social exclusion and the increasing importance of positive mental health.

Much of this can change through planning and design with a shift to multi-centred Australian cities that are more localised with active living that could potentially remove tens of thousands of cars from our road and avoid further unnecessary spending on road infrastructure that locks cities into car dependency and increasing economic inequity. And through the introduction of living infrastructure which increases biodiversity, providing urban corridors for native wildlife, encouraging bird life and pollination; urban forests and greening support management of stormwater run-off and improve water quality, adding natural green elements to the built environment reduces air pollution and improves air quality, spending time in nature provides rehabilitative and recuperative benefits to those suffering mental illness, exercising in parks benefits adult’s relaxation and stress management and improves capacity to disconnect, time spent outdoors is linked to increased work productivity and creativity, structured activity in local parks is a motivator for older adults to visit and connect and adolescents who spend time in nature have a greater sense of calm and focus during study.

Future focus: Australian Institute of Landscape Architects call for new Living Infrastructure Strategy
Centenary Lakes Nature Play in Cairns
Future focus: Australian Institute of Landscape Architects call for new Living Infrastructure Strategy

Urban.com.au: Which country do you believe already has a similar environmental strategy in place and one which Australia could look towards?

Dr Andrew MacKenzie: Singapore is a leader in policy approaches to green infrastructure - since independence, they have committed to greening the city through tree planting and more recently enhancing the biodiversity has been very successful. London has also made significant progress towards a metropolitan-wide GI strategy but are yet to be implemented.

Urban.com.au: What are some stand out examples of ways landscape design regenerates life into a space where infrastructure dominates the land?

Dr Andrew MacKenzie: Perhaps the best example is the bicentennial and Sydney Olympic parklands. Homebush Bay was once one of the most polluted waterways in the world now home to extraordinary biodiversity including the green and golden bell frog.

Urban.com.au: What does a healthy and more liveable city look like to you?

Dr Andrew MacKenzie: How long is a piece of string! A happy co-existence between the community and the urban environment where the benefits afforded from green infrastructure benefits everyone in some way from great parks and reserves to well-treed streets.

Urban.com.au: Which government parties/candidates are currently on board with your mission to create healthier cities?

Dr Andrew MacKenzie: The ALP has traditionally committed to supporting urban development going back to Chifley in the post-war era. The Liberals tend to leave it to the states and the private sector.

Urban.com.au: What impact are issues surrounding city density, congestion and increased population having on Australia and what could be some ways to mitigate negative long-term effects?

Dr Andrew MacKenzie: Essentially, current trends in compact city growth is squeezing out high quality accessible open spaces and reducing our green cover increasing risks associated with urban heat island effect (heat stress-related illness etc).

Additional information from 202020 Vision advocate and Griffith University urban and environmental planner, Dr Tony Matthews: ‘Extreme heat disproportionately affects built-up metropolitan areas. This is largely due to impervious surfaces and a lack of urban vegetation (street trees, green spaces) absorbing more heat than surrounding rural areas, which radiate it back into the air in an oven-like effect, causing ‘urban heat island effect’. The effects are wide-ranging, resulting in an increase to energy costs, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, water quality, heat-related illness and mortality in these areas.[1]

Increasing the prevalence of green spaces through the installation of street trees, city parks and rooftop gardens has consistently demonstrated a reduction in the urban heat island effect, where larger urban forests can also create a pool of cooler air and spread it to nearby neighbourhoods by enhancing local wind patterns. We just need to see more action and momentum for the widespread uptake of these tried and tested strategies.

Urban.com.au: Due to the fact that half of Australia’s nationally threatened animal species occur in areas planned for urban development, what are some strategies that could be implemented to ensure Australia's native species are protected? Does this mean developments need to be relocated or are there ways to design these new spaces to accommodate the native species that already inhabit those areas?

Dr Andrew MacKenzie: Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinction is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, warns a landmark new report from the UN. Cities have a critical part to play in saving our endangered from extinction.

Adopting a biodiversity evaluation approach to urban development where significant habitat is either protected or created (novel ecologies) is adopted. This could include improving the connectivity of green patches and improving our community appreciation of local ecological communities.

It means working with nature in our cities, both with government and the community. It’s not enough to have big grassy parks and trees as token gestures of ‘nature’, we need to reflect in urban environments what we actually see in nature. Urbanisation is a threat to biodiversity but there’s much we can do to minimise it, through biodiversity evaluation and habitat protection.

[1] Green City, http://thegreencity.com/the-causes-and-effects-of-the-urban-heat-island-effect/

Lead image: Darebin Yarra Trail Link by Vic Roads Urban and Structural Design Teams 



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Discussion (1 comment)

Steve Dunn's picture
I hope a simpler message to our federal government can be sent. We'd like Green Infrastructure to be on the same funding line as Power, Transport Social and IT Infrastructure.
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