Tag Archives: urban ecology

Avoiding the Poison Berries – Where is it Made, Mate?

If you live in Australia you’ve probably by now seen some eye-catching headlines about people contracting Hepatitis A from ‘poison berries’ being imported from overseas… with mention of un-controlled border imports, human faeces as fertiliser and images of poisoned waterways.

Berries

Yes, this makes me hungry, for berries ‘Produced in Australia’. For other countries you’ll need to research your own consumer laws.

Rather than throw fuel on the fire that’s currently raging in the media [do your own research on this one], I felt compelled to have a fresh look at how we might better welcome fresh, locally-grown, healthy and seasonal food into our own lives.

So where is it really made, Mate??

It was only last weekend that I ‘cracked it’ in an un-named supermarket because I literally couldn’t identify which product was actually grown and packed in Australia. So if we’re interested in buying only locally grown [and preferably locally owned] foods, what are we looking for on the label?

Here’s what I’ve been able to find out – and finding this was a lot like calling my previous Superannuation fund to cancel something; it took several steps from one authority to another before someone seems willing to make a decision ; )

It’s our ACCC [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] via Consumer Law that lays down the rules. The following is summarised from their fact sheet;

‘Product of / Grown In’ – significant ingredients are from the country claimed and almost all production processes occurred in that country. ‘Grown in’ is mostly for fresh food, ‘Product of’ is often for processed food.

‘Product of Australia’ – means it was grown/caught and processed in Australia.

‘Grown in Australia’ – means, well… what it says.

‘Made In’ – has a cost ratio to determine [long story], but can contain ingredients from other countries. That’s right;

‘Made in Australia’ can mean that the entire contents are from another country.

That’s gold isn’t it??!!

‘Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients’ – no requirement to disclose proportion, and often used to address seasonal shortages in Australian produce… [it happens to be this one that’s at the centre of berry-gate, to the detriment of Aussie farmers who are growing nothing but good gear all year ’round]

For your own sake, have a look at the ACCC fact sheet – it’s a one pager and gets straight to the point. It will change how you shop.

Bon Appetite : )

 

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)…

11-PrivateClubAlaquaCountryClub

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.

Jobs of the Future: Urban Farmer

Position Description; Urban Farmer sought for Smith Street Community. Must have extensive knowledge in horticulture, aquaponics and bee keeping. The role includes providing support and teaching to the community who wish to increase their food security, enhance community resilience and mutual reliance, and re-connect their families and children with organic, seasonal and healthy food.

The majority of homes and street verges are under-productive and require the establishment of new street orchards, planted verges and diverse seasonal produce crops on individual Lots, with the intention to swap produce through a weekly urban orchard program. An additional pilot program underway in conjunction with local Council includes returning sections of street parking to vegetated and edible rain gardens.

large-UrbanFarmer

what would an urban farmer post be without Michael Mobbs?

 

The Forester must have a strong understanding of organic horticulture, natural soil production and local climatic conditions. Understanding of local soil conditions an advantage. Strong engagement skills and familiarity with working with local Councils is desirable, and the Forester will be collaborating with the local Council in managing the assignment of their annual Community Resilience funding.

Ability to craft hand-made beer will be considered an added advantage by the community’s enthusiastic annual home brewing contestants.

Remuneration will be subject to performance, diversity and quality of product, and community feedback. Payment sources shall be the following;

  • Nominal part cash payment comprised of monthly contributions from the community;
  • Part payment from Council Community Resilience program funding;
  • Part payment from Community members’ health insurance providers [for providing healthy organic food and supporting community involvement];
  • Part payment from the State Health Department [for reducing demand on healthcare provision through providing healthy food and enhanced social capital];
  • Part payment as share of produce.

If you don’t mind a little hard work, a lot of socialising and garden chats, herding ducks and farming fish, dodging children’s toys, teaching adults and children, mucking with compost, stealing from bees and chickens, and beer tasting, then give us a call – we’d love to hear from you.

… We already get health insurer subsidies for gym membership and physiotherapy, and it’s only a matter of time before we get the same for consuming healthier food, joining community groups and for making our neighbourhoods more resilient. This job would be a great gig.

BB2014-PCA-vote

 

 

Green Wave for Cyclists – Would it Work in Your City?

Does it  make your blood boil when you’re driving and you see cyclists running red lights? This topic is a terrific conversation starter and friendship-ender and not many people sit on the fence.

Whilst I can see things from both points of view, the issue of ‘safety’ makes it a bit of a no-brainer – running red lights in any mode just isn’t safe. But having to stop at up to a dozen or more red lights when cycling through the city also defeats the purpose somewhat. So, what’s the solution? [because there always is one]

The Danes, being such a suave and design-focussed lot, have come up with a way to get rid of red lights for cyclists. And it hardly cost them a cent. They simply re-programmed the traffic lights to create a ‘green wave’ during peak periods.

rs_1_Kopenhagen__groene_golf_voor_fietsers

If cyclists are happy to cruise along at 20km/hr they’ll get a continuous run of green lights all the way into town. Throw in a bit of signage, road markings and driver awareness communications, and you’ve got an elegant solution to an inflammatory problem. Check out the official Danish web site for other cool stuff they’re doing in the ‘World’s first Bike City’. Also fun to watch this video from someone riding into Copenhagen – astounding to see how many people cycle!

copenhagen cycling 01

So right now  you’re probably saying ‘but that’s too slow for cars!’… well, the average driving speed in metropolitan Sydney [i.e. all of Sydney, not just the CBD] is around 32km/hr during peak periods. I couldn’t find CBD-specific data but from experience it’s even less than this.

Amsterdam has them. San Diego has followed suit. New York City is working on it for Prince St. Perhaps even major urban developments could be brokering this re-programming as part of improving the value  of their project?

Do you think Green Waves would work in your city?

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.

 

 

Will Your Health Insurance Rise Because Your Neighbourhood is Hot?

Picture a not-too-distant future where your health insurer pegs your premium to how well your neighbourhood has prepared itself for the impacts of climate change, in particular increased heat events.

Don’t think it will happen? Well, we’ve already seen the introduction of telematics into the motoring industry; at present you are able to opt to have a driver-monitoring device installed in your car, and your insurer can then decide what premium to charge you based on the data it collects about how you drive… wouldn’t bother me personally as long as I don’t get penalised for my language.

We now have data linking increased death rates during heat events to specific urban environmental conditions. Whilst there are other indicators such as isolation, age, population density and so forth, the stand-out neighbourhood design factors are those around ‘heat island’.

paris heat island

Paris heat island effect – the air temperature around Paris.

Heat island is a term used to describe how urban environments get hotter than their natural surrounds due to high levels of hard surfaces such as concrete and bitumen, and lower amounts of shaded and landscaped areas.

A 2013 study my Monash University has mapped the statistical rises in heat-related death rates during heat events for Australia’s main cities, suburb by suburb. This is pretty gruesome stuff but the evidence all points to urban heat island being a major part of the problem. The report is definitely worth a read, particularly to understand the various factors that all combine to make your suburb potentially vulnerable to heat events.

heat vulnerability study monash

The Monash Uni study. Click image for source.

So now we have this data, meaning your health insurer does too, and they can gain an understanding of your suburb’s ‘Vulnerability Index’… just sayin’…

sydney heat map

Sydney’s increased heat-related deaths. Lifted from the Monash study. click.

By focussing our efforts on refurbishing our existing neighbourhoods and making them more resilient (and cooler : ) we stand a good chance of heading off this sad story. Stay tuned for some awesome things we can do to tackle this… all multiple-benefit value-adds for our communities.

A City Resilience (Liveability) Survey

We regularly hear about some city that has just been awarded the ‘world’s most livable city’ award, of some description. Even my home town of Adelaide got into a No.1 spot last year [Lonely Planet ‘best in travel’… must be the wine?]… and I’ve always wondered how these conclusions are reached (and I’ll leave Adelaide alone… they have enough to contend with ; )

After a bit of digging it’s apparent that these ‘surveys’ are of course biased towards the audience of whoever has sponsored the survey, e.g. an automobile association might survey its members and conclude that a car-centric city is superior to one that has a focus on walkability.

city economist

one of the many surveys

Even when searching for a globally fair ‘livability’ index it’s apparent that it will never be completely objective or fair, unless the survey takes into account how the people of that city or community actually feel about where they live.

My search led me to a really handy ‘city resilience’ survey. The principle here is that ‘livability’ is so nebulous that it’s difficult to even brief for and design to – it means different things to different people, however when we place more focus on the living community it becomes more of a discussion about community and city resilience.

resilience survey

image from ‘City Resilient’ by Partners for Livable Communities

This city resilience survey – or ‘Community Scorecard’, by Partners for Livable Communities provides a well written plain-language survey that is tailored specifically for community engagement. The survey assesses 5 qualities that comprise ‘resilience’;

  1. Economy – jobs, innovation, talent attraction, economic base
  2. Environment – resource efficiency, consumption, air and water quality, access to the outdoors
  3. Education – high quality public education access, learning programs
  4. Health & Safety – physical and mental health
  5. Quality of Life – community care, interaction, open-ness to ideas

If you’re in a role where ‘livability’ is part of the challenge, or if you simply want to gain a better understanding of what makes a strong and resilient community, the web site and the survey are a good read and easy to digest.

And here’s the challenge – you need to get a total score of at least 110 in order for your community to be considered ‘resilient’… see how you go.