Category Archives: Land Use and Wildlife

Is it Time to Dig Up the Golf Course?

You’ve probably played on one or visited at least one in your lifetime. A select few will even own a house on one. Some know I’ve thrown a few clubs on one. Golf course estates – privately held or strata-held housing surrounding a manicured golf course. But a new model is emerging that offers something quite different (and arguably less frustrating)…

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Golf Course estates are typically devoid of ecological or productive value, lock up valuable topsoil and land, and alienate the rest of us.

Enter the Development Supported Agriculture (DSA) model. You could effectively picture the golf course being replaced with a highly diverse and productive farm, accessible to residents and neighbours. The residential development then includes shared community facilities based around food production and education.

East-Lake-Farmer

East Lake Commons, Decatur, Georgia US

Development Supported Agriculture is where the initial developer provides all of the farm infrastructure along with their residential estate products, and a ‘real’ farmer then works the farm, selling produce to the resident market – without the normal transport impacts or costs etc.

There are 5 core principles of DSA (from Wieler) :

  1. Preservation of farmland through limited development and continuity of previous farming uses.
  2. Agreements between developers and farmers (development provides farm infrastructure, farmers provide farm products to residents and the local community).
  3. Low-impact development techniques, sustainable architecture, and careful ecological/environmental planning.
  4. Establishment of wildlife corridors and animal habitats, promotion of native plant species, and protection of water quality.
  5. Utilization of an open-source development model that provides a framework for master-planned farm communities and integrated local food systems.

Residents are able to either work their own share of the land or lease it to the farmer in exchange for produce. Most of the DSA developments around the world are also all or mostly organic farms, feeding our growing demand for clean, safe, organic food that is locally produced.

Lots of good resources around on this topic; check this one out for planning code inserts that have been prepared for local Councils, to facilitate Community Supported Agriculture developments during the planning stages.

CSA

This is a really exciting model of value-added residential community design with enhanced food security and resilience. There are at least 1,000 of these registered in the US alone, and I’m excited to see where the first of these will arise (or have arisen) in Australia.

Give me this over a golf course in my neighbourhood any day.

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Explore Melbourne’s Urban Forest

One of if not the best way to tackle urban heat island effect is to go nuts with trees… and not just nut trees; fruit trees, natives, exotics, you name it – the menu needs to be as broad and diverse as possible.

The term ‘urban forest’ seems to be used fairly loosely – sometimes it refers to comprehensive ecological pockets within cities, other times it means streetscape planting or even ‘orchards on the commons’. Lots of interesting concepts around this but the one I wanted to share this time is Melbourne City Council’s ‘Urban Forest’ web site.

melb urban forest

Have a surf through this site (which I highly recommend – heaps of good ideas to ‘borrow’ : ) and something new jumps out relatively quickly – Melbourne City Council are treating their urban forest as a city asset, not only for its heat island mitigation benefits, but also as city amenity, stormwater filter etc. In fact they value their current 70,000 street trees at $650M!

urban forest infographic

The Council, through their Urban Forest Strategy 2012-2032, are aiming for a 40% tree canopy by 2032.

“The City of Melbourne’s urban forest will be resilient, healthy and diverse. It will contribute to the health and wellbeing of the community and to the creation of a liveable city.”

melb urban forest strategy

You may also have come across ‘1 million trees’ programs in now many of the world’s major cities – NYC, London, Sydney etc. Well, Melbourne is aiming for 1.5 million in the metropolitan area plus another half a million regionally. Beat that.

If we were to overlay this urban forest agenda with our ‘hot suburbs’ maps from the previous post, we’d generate some pretty interesting opportunities for urban forestry and green streets upgrades. Take the time to explore this web site – a great read and clearly the result of some very smart and collaborative work.

 

 

SITES – Could it Fill The Gap Between Our Rating Tools?

If you’re familiar with the mainstream ‘green building’ rating tools you’ll know that landscape is often captured within one or two credits amongst the entire tool, and there is generally nothing that rewards good place making.

There’s a case for putting more emphasis on the landscape for the following two reasons;

  1. The landscape we create externally to the building often has the potential for ecological good that far outweighs what the building is doing, and
  2. It’s the landscape (and building edges) that creates our public space – indeed the spaces external to our green buildings are the canvas for our experiences of the city.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative from the American Society of Landscape Architects is a terrific ‘public spaces’ and landscape guide and certification tool. It addresses the full bottle of landscape opportunities and includes a ‘Site Design – Human Health and Wellbeing’ category which gets right into the detail of place making.

SITES

Check out the site during some me-time on your Friday. The rating tool guide and supporting Case for Sustainable Landscapes are written in clear language and include great overviews of landscape and ecological principles.

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At risk of introducing another rating tool, SITES seems to fit nicely between our current suite of green building and green infrastructure certification schemes. Even if you don’t follow the certification pathway there is some great intel in this one.

The Pocket Neighbourhood

Have you ever been drawn into a fence dispute with a neighbour? We’ve certainly had our fair share… I’m not sure if it’s because of or despite the fact that my wife and I are from an architectural background. To us it’s a pretty straightforward deal: follow the local planning controls and fencing Acts, run a string-line along the boundary, agree on materials and select a quote, and boof! – there’s your fence. Simple, right?

Noooooo. Not on your life. The more I’ve shared our latest escapade with friends the more I’m convinced that this is Newton’s Fourth Law – Friction is directly proportional to the length of a new fence. It seems that most people have to suffer when installing a shared boundary fence.

Perhaps it’s this recent experience that has sent me off looking for the opposite effects (Newton’s Third Law?) – an approach to community design that negates the fence fights and acts to bring neighbours together.

A friend sent me this ‘pocket neighbourhoods’ link [by Ross Chapin] during the week and as soon as I jumped in it took me back to the period when I was doing a lot of retirement village master planning – maybe it’s the denominator of ‘common cause’ and a stronger focus on pedestrianism that made me sentimental, but in exploring this site I’m thinking ‘how can we decant that into larger urban scale development?’

pocket neighb

My ability with words isn’t a patch on the photos on this site so just take a look for yourself… but look for the sustainable community attributes of these pocket neighbourhoods – how they deal with the commons and shared spaces (shared infrastructure), public-private (reduced land consumption), transport (reduced emissions), pedestrian connections (social and physical health) and so forth.

This site also has some good links to other urban sustainability sites – worth a cruise during your Friday lunch time.

Enjoy.

MM#18 – City Slicker Final; Think Global Act Regional

Now we close the loop.

We’ve seen how, when we look beyond our project’s site boundaries, we can contribute to significant environmental, social and economic uplift without needing to spend a fortune. We can avoid resorting to high-tech add-ons just to score points in a rating tool… the trick is to know where the right departure point is, from which we can look outside our site for better sustainability returns.

Let’s quickly re-cap;

  1. Developers will generally only consider off-site investment if they can get recognised for it;
  2. Seek the point in the de-carbonising graph where it no longer makes sense to keep going on-site, and off-site carbon mitigation makes more sense… e.g. plant thousands of trees instead of a green roof;
  3. City development projects can devote some of their ‘would-have-been-a-cogeneration-plant’ funds towards regional uplift and restoration projects, creating superior ecological outcomes, economic and social uplift and improved agricultural output;
  4. In Australia (and many other countries) we have a sad record of high suicide rates outside our cities. It’s time to re-join city & country through sustainable development;
  5. A Biobanking model already exists to facilitate offsetting of environmental impacts. This model could in theory be easily adapted to suit our green development industry;
  6. We have a suite of rating tools that already, to some degree, allow offsetting – the only question is ‘how much more effective can we make this?’

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I’ve been considering and researching this opportunity for months now and I still haven’t found nor heard a reason for it not to work. We have all the parts already in place, there are already precedents for offsetting, our rating tools have already accepted offsetting in principle, and by gosh we need to soak up some carbon and restore some biodiversity.

Watch this space…

Biobanking: A City Slicker + Country Bumpkin Wedding?

So we’ve made it this far. City slicker building owners could offset the remainder of their carbon impacts by restoring some biodiversity. And we have some country bumpkins [sorry, can’t help it] with poor crop yields, falling soil fertility, regular droughts and floods and falling commodity prices.

I know what we need – a wedding!

In this all-but-final installment of the City Slicker series we look at how a city development could have eco-offsets in the countryside locked in against the building, thereby making them ‘part of the development’, and thereby making them recognisable by a suite of green building rating tools.

The best starting point I’ve managed to find is the NSW Governments’ Biodiversity Banking and Offsets Scheme, or ‘Biobanking’ scheme.

The principle is relatively simple; a developer identifies their total ecological and/or species impact that will result from their development. They then purchase ‘bio-credits’ to offset that impact. The credits are invested in a land trust which then manages biodiversity restoration directly with rural landowners. The landowner becomes the steward of the restoration and receives a management fee for the service.

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image from 5th Estate; could we use the bionbanking vehicle but change what it does?

Now before you get all hot and bothered; this particular scheme is effectively a mechanism allowing developers to trash a site and ‘offset’ the impacts, which in biodiversity terms doesn’t really work – it’s not possible to magically replace a highly developed ecological community somewhere else. It’s gone. There’s a good article on the 5th Estate that delves into this.

But, what I’m interested in is the mechanism that can allow a city building to offset its carbon impact by restoring rural landscapes. The biobanking scheme lays out a method by which this could be facilitated.

I can also see a pathway where the land trust component could itself be removed, allowing a direct agreement between the building owner and the rural landowner. All it needs is a template agreement drafted up by a gaggle of lawyers, offset details and fees agreed, and away we go. (don’t you love my simple outlook on life?)

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image credit; Queensland Country Life

It’s clear that there are existing ways in which we can offset residual carbon impacts from our buildings into biodiversity restoration, and that rural landowners can get some upside too. There are other schemes around that are similar to NSW Biobanking, so it’s not unique.

Tomorrow we’ll have a quick look at which of our green building rating tools might already reward this, and hopefully close the loop.

MM#17 – Could Our Green Buildings Save Lives?

What is a life worth? Would $400,000 save one? How about $100,000 or even $10,000? How much would it take to convince someone to keep going?

Each year in Australia around 2,000 people take their own lives… that’s 6 a day. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, suicide rates in rural areas are 33% higher than major cities and an alarming 189% higher in very remote areas. Wherever I looked I found a similar story in other countries.

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photo credit; Rural Weekly. Click image for link.

This installment in the City Slicker series puts a face to the city-rural disconnect, and shows how our eco-offsets might contribute to lowering the rural suicide rates in Australia and indeed in much of the developed world.

It’s difficult to talk about this without sounding glib or self-serving, but I feel compelled to put the idea forward to add another dimension to our green rating tools. One of the greatest benefits of the eco-offsets concept is the upside for our rural communities.

Let’s look at it this way; instead of spending $400,000 on a cogeneration plant on a city building, what would happen if we spent that on re-vegetation in a nearby country area? The trees [about 106,000 of them!] need to be planted by someone. They need to be tended. Fences might be needed. Down the timeline someone might even be harvesting selected timber from the plantings. There is also the agricultural [or ‘agroecological’] uplift. In fact this amount of investment from one larger city building is enough to kick-start new businesses and livelihoods in the country. So why aren’t we doing this?

The point is this: by directing some of our city buildings’ investment towards the greater environmental benefit [rather than to expensive add-ons], we could also be strengthening the resilience of rural communities and sharing some hope. In our race towards ever-greener buildings we need to keep a line of sight to the social opportunities.

In the next City Slicker installations we’ll look at the mechanism for how we might tie these rural restorations to our city buildings, and thereby have them recognised in our green rating tools. We’ll then finish by touching on each of the most popular green rating tools to see how eco-offsets might fit in.