Our City Slicker Buildings Need a Bit of Feral

What’s with our current fascination with green roofs? Why in the world are we resorting to sun-tracking solar arrays or wind turbines on city roofs? I don’t have any problem with technology when it’s appropriate and fit-for-purpose, but this current trend to adopt these things in the name of ‘environmental good’ has got to stop.

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http://www.greenroofsaustralasia.com.au (1 Bligh St green wall)
And don’t worry – I’m a fan of green roofs and walls when appropriate

For the past few years we’ve been racing down the mesmerising path of high-tech and ‘carbon neutral’ buildings with little regard for the greater good. We increasingly resort to high-cost glamour in the arms race for attention.

But what’s been missing in the property industry is the broader conversation about our biosphere, our soils and forests, our bush and grasslands, our species decline, and the failing wellbeing or our rural communities. We’ve fallen into the trap of seeing our buildings in isolation from the grand cycles of which they remain a part.

For this series of posts I’m going to explore the notion of linking our green urban developments (and the rating tools that inform them) with a renaissance in rural restoration. We are going to put the tree back into the country, and see what it might take to reward building owners and developers for re-focussing on the greater good, even if it takes place many miles from their development. We’re going to re-focus on sustainable systems rather than just buildings.

The concept is simple, the sting is in the detail. Here are the overall steps;

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  1. Optimise the building’s carbon footprint (energy consumption, embodied energy in construction and materials) through the application of good design and appropriate technologies;
  2. Offset the residual carbon footprint through eco-offsets, by direct biodiversity restoration in the same bioregion or watershed;
  3. Legally link the offset land back to the project, thereby making it ‘part of the development’, and therefore rewardable under the various rating tools (?);
  4. The offset itself stabilises soils, improves ecology and agricultural productivity, invests in future timber supply, and creates rural capacity building and employment.

The ingredients for this recipe already exist – all of them. The only thing we haven’t done is work out how to bring them together in a Master Chef finale.

We’ll hear about how to reduce carbon footprints, the boom in timber construction, the principles of residual eco-offsets, bio-banking and the EPBC Act. We’ll compare the carbon equation of trees Vs concrete and steel. We’ll cover ecological restoration and green corridors, eco-agriculture and green collar jobs creation. And we’ll have a look at which of the existing green building rating tools might recognise an off-site initiative such as ‘carbon farming’.

This one might be controversial, and due to space limitations I will no doubt inadvertently offend some purely by omission (I will need to generalise at times, as I have already done here). But I also think our cities can be the greatest carbon sinks on Earth – they can be a major part of the solution to climate change (rather than a major cause) and this concept excites me.

Stay tuned, and let’s see what happens.

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