Its time for a National Green Infrastructure Policy

The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) has written to the Australian Government requesting that the country takes a global leadership position on Green Infrastructure and formally acknowledges Australia’s urban landscapes as key drivers for improved health, environmental and social outcomes by 2055.

A National Green Infrastructure Strategy is the figurehead of four key recommendations made in a submission to Infrastructure Australia’s 15 Year Infrastructure Plan for Australia.

With close to 80 per cent of Australian adults predicted to be overweight or obese by 2025, AILA is urging the Government to consider the tangible physical, social, economic and environmental impacts well-designed public spaces and cities have been proven to produce.

The four strategic recommendations proposed by AILA’s submission are:

  1. A National Green Infrastructure Strategy from the federal government to provide guidance on how infrastructure projects can be a catalyst for enhanced landscape outcomes through green infrastructure investment. The strategy will include a policy statement to articulate the government’s position on infrastructure investment and investment action areas
  2. Minimum ‘SITES’ Ratings for federally funded projects to encourage a global standard of integration of natural and physical infrastructure
  3. A National Green Infrastructure Training Program for built environment practitioners, including engineers, planners and senior level policy makers involved in the planning, design and development of infrastructure across a diversity of asset classes
  4. A Project Briefing Guide for Integrating Landscape through Infrastructure

In proposing its key recommendations, AILA cites the global transition away from single purpose ‘grey infrastructure’ to more multi-purpose infrastructure that mimics nature, provides critical ecosystem services and promotes healthy and active living.

With state and local governments primed for accelerating green infrastructureopportunities at the project development level, national leadership from Infrastructure Australia would catalyse greater value for federally funded infrastructure investments.

The four strategic recommendations are to be included in the 15 Year Infrastructure Plan, and align with the federal government’s noted aspirations for the plan (themselves reflective of an industry led approach) which includes:

  • Embedding the benefits to society of green infrastructure – driving national prosperity
  • Enhancing our quality of life
  • Leveraging federal, state, local government and private capital
  • Ensuring federally funded infrastructure is resilient and designed to work with nature, not against it
  • Providing better integration of land use planning and infrastructure planning
  • Building more integrated governance across all levels of government to deliver better value for the community.

By providing a national policy on green infrastructure which is measurable and assessed against nationally agreed criteria, industry and the broader professions have more incentive and better opportunities to embed the benefits of a greener approach to projects, as well as creating better places and landscapes as a result.

The new policy is backed up with training programs to measure their projects via the SITES tool, a nationally accredited Green Infrastructure Training Program, and a very useful Project Briefing Guide for Integrating Landscape through Infrastructure Development. These tools will make embedding the approach, and real outcomes, more achievable for the private sector, demonstrating wider benefits as well as project benefits.

Ultimately, the proposed changes would add significant value to all projects beyond their initial capital costs. AILA would argue that to do nothing and continue on our current chartered course is a far worse scenario for the health and well-being of Australia’s future.

The 2015 Intergenerational Report Australia 2055 notes that “Australian Government health expenditure is projected to increase as a proportion of GDP from 4.2% in 2014/15 to 5.7% of GDP in 2054/55.”

Approximately 80 per cent of the rise in costs to the taxpayer funded health system relates to non-demographic factors such as the general population seeing more doctors, having more tests, and taking more medicine. With an aging population, the physical and mental benefits to society of regular engagement with the natural environment are well known and documented. The time to embed the benefits must start now at a national level.

The costs of chronic disease to western society has overtaken infectious diseases as a major cause of death. Over 60 per cent of Australians are considered overweight or obese now, and this figure is expected to grow to 80 per cent if we make no changes to how we develop our cities and regions.

The embedded costs of a more holistic integration of green infrastructure and a greener city landscape will address these issues. For example, the benefits of a greener street, more street trees, better footpaths for a more walkable suburb, creating pleasant natural outlooks, enabling more bike riding opportunities (leisure and commuting) and finally enjoying the natural environment are simple solutions that provide more incentive for Australians to exercise and have a healthier lifestyle.

AILA also strongly argues that any capital costs associated with more landscape in our cities far outweighs the short-term cost savings of the common value management pressures or removing landscape from any given infrastructure project. Often seen as afterthoughts, an integrated landscape solution is everything but an afterthought.

Our cities and regions are very complex things, often guided by three levels of government and their associated policies, strategies, codes, election promises, community-led demands and many other conflicting requirements.

One of AILA’s principal objectives is to advocate the benefits of ‘the space between buildings’ as being of equal if not greater value than the floor space where most of us live, work or play.

The benefits of fresh air, walking, sitting, strolling, watching, enjoying, riding, playing and living in our streets, squares, parks, riverfront, harbours and gardens is a human need, and access to quality green space is a core part of democratic society.

Think of your favourite green spaces – any one of Sydney’s majestic harbour front parks, a stroll through Adelaide’s magnificent botanic gardens, a ride along Melbourne’s Yarra River, enjoying Kings Park in Perth, relaxing within Darwin’s new waterfront, promenading along Salamanca Place in Hobart and enjoying the planned landscape of Canberra’s Parliamentary Triangle. These are experiences all involving an immersion in the landscape.

We are making the strong case of the importance of green space, how integration is essential, and how greener thinking can make our cities better, healthier, successful places. Landscape architects are trained and have the experience to embed, create, highlight and deliver these things.

Often the ‘hero’ in our cities and towns is made to be the building.

We need great buildings in our city – and there are so many across all of Australia – yet it is the brilliance of cities where green space is prominent. Colonel Light’s plan for Adelaide that is surrounded by 770 hectares of green space – the lungs of the city – with six squares for breathing space ordered through the plan, Sydney’s remnant harbour front reserves and the Botanic Gardens, Brisbane’s Southbank, Melbourne’s beautiful parks, Hobart’s Mt Wellington, Perth’s Kings Park, Canberra’s planned and integrated park lands; these are all the landscape features of our cities. We may sometimes take these places for granted, but when they are impacted by development or threats, we react. Melbourne’s Royal Park is a great example of the community impacts of infrastructure development.

Most professionals and developers are aware of the benefits of a well-designed and integrated landscape. Our task is to continue to build the value ‘beyond the project’ to the city, to achieve carbon reduction, better shade, connected green space, food security, and to embed the benefits in government policy to ensure the societal challenges of obesity and heart attacks are removed by improving our health and well-being.

It’s time Australia recognised the benefits of green infrastructure to chart a greener future for us all.

This article was originally published on Sourcable.net (https://sourceable.net/its-time-for-a-national-green-infrastructure-policy/#)

Burley Griffin’s last Australian designed building…

I loved Sydney’s ‘old’ Pyrmont.

As a student of landscape architecture at UNSW I used to ‘bus’ it along Victoria Road, from Drummoyne through Rozelle, across the centre span (and still extant) Glebe Island Bridge, along Bank Street and then onto the freeways on the eastern side of Pyrmont into the city.  This was long before it became gentrified, before the new Anzac Bridge and before the flyovers.  This was also when the old NSW Government Printers were still rolling out books, reports and anything printable on Harris Street.

I recall with a sense of nostalgia the buildings – mostly industrial – with some fondness. The big forms, the carved sandstone foundations, the escarpments, the sugar refinery, the pubs on every corner, the fish markets – I can only compare my vision of Pyrmont and Ultimo with the same fondness as I do for Port Adelaide in 2014 (the wool stores and the old waterfront…).  Back to 1992 – this was in the days of the Greiner-led Liberal Government’s CityWest Corporation which was essentially tasked with gentrifying the peninsula.  Many may recall the relocation of the ABC to Ultimo was also a key move to reenergise the area.  The population back then – pre casino, pre apartments, pre activity – was a very low 2,000 residents – in 2011 it was around 12,000.

The Burley Griffin designed incinerator was one of many in Sydney (and indeed one in Adelaide!) that are sadly no longer with us.  However there is hope – witness the recent conversation of the Willoughby incinerator on Sydney’s north shore – also designed by Burley Griffin – into a cafe and gallery space.  It takes some leadership and risk taking, but adaptive reuse is a great way to repurpose buildings.  Many of Sydney’s industrial icons – most now erased – with perhaps the exception of Garden Island (under threat) and Cockatoo Island (safe for now) – could have been considered for adaptive reuse – or in simple language – recreating new uses for them.  This includes residential, commercial, retail and cultural uses (think of the Powerhouse Museum, a former power station converted to a museum).

Between the Bicentennial works in the years leading up to 1988, the western side of Pyrmont underwent massive change in the 1990’s.  It is almost completely unrecognisable today.

What became quickly obvious to me was the lack of appreciation for any of the areas industrial and working history, and this amazing ABC News interview from 1992 with my thesis supervisor Prof James Weirick from UNSW shows he was amongst the lone voices in asking why the Incinerator and at least some of the industrial heritage wasn’t being conserved and reused.

The City of Sydney’s webpage provides some background on what happened, and the confusing legal situation. There was one proposal in the mid 1980’s to consider a tavern and cafe but this fell through.  More information on the many Griffin designed incinerators (including which ones are still existing) can be found at the Griffin Society pages.

Many of these questions may have been asked – but I will always wonder if they were asked well and often enough.  It appears that there was some efforts to save the incinerator, but redevelopment pressures were very strong and appeared to be the overriding force.  The City even tried selling the incinerator to the RTA…

The footage includes the demolition of the structure, as well as footage of a (younger) James Weirick.  Great stuff albeit a sad day.

Northern elevation of Pyrmont incinarator. Source: Walter Burley Griffin Society Incorporated Collection

Northern elevation of Pyrmont incinarator. Source: Walter Burley Griffin Society Incorporated Collection



Charting Australian Sprawl…

Data and metrics are wonderful things.  They allow us to bend and warp stats to create profiles and trends.

Of particular interest to me is how our cities are changing.  There is a lot of noise about inner, middle and outer ‘density’ (which in this context is the number of people who inhabit a square hectare) in all our major cities.

This excellent piece of data analysis demonstrates some trends in an upward fashion for most of our cities.

Adelaide: static and sprawling?

Picking on Adelaide, it shows that using weighted averages (and I’m no statitician…) we have not moved much since 1981.  Ironically that is over 30 years ago, so what does that mean for the recently launched 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide, and by implication, the recent 30 Year Transport Plan?  Both are well crafted, well intentioned documents, wondering if these trends were assessed and analysed on why? I assume yes, but it makes for sober reading. Turning density around is a slow process, so perhaps more intensity in density is required to change the graph and make a real difference to our cities?

Whilst the average is across the entire metropolitan area, it shows an average Adelaidian density of just 12 persons per hectare.  Compare this with Sydney which is double, still low on world standards. The trends show the curves dropping to their lowest densities in the 1980s – which probably reflects one of the many sprawling housing booms Australian Cities have had over the decades. 

graph density Australian Capital cities

However measuring this on an international scale is a bit more difficult, according to ‘Charting Transport’, as the stats and comparable data dont match.  A very interesting read.


Image: Doug Barton

A ‘new’ plan for Adelaide’s transport future?

Yesterday the South Australian Government released a new transport master plan they said last year was not required…however this is an important initiative, and deserves our attention.

Master plans are great tools – and the very good ones are strategic, allow flexibility and are not overly prescriptive. A comprehensive transport master plan is an essential part of a city’s collateral as part of shaping great cities.

Adelaide has arguably a good precedent: the MATS plan of the 1960’s.  The MATS plan was comprehensive, and proposed an Adelaide city rail underground metro as well….so some thing don’t change!

These plans are important for many reasons: forward city planning, funding and forward estimates, developing feasible projects, allowing for corridor reservation (and acquisition if required), integrating land use planning, developing and fostering good city design principles, and allowing debate on the city’s general future direction.

So, a big tick for the Government for releasing a comprehensive transport plan. This is supported.

However, a couple of fundamental questions on the new transport master plan:

  • is the transport plan closely aligned and informed by Adelaide’s much valued and vaunted 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide?  has this informed the transport blueprints in the new master plan?
  • has there been any feasibility on the proposed public transport initiatives? for example, what is the viability of a tram service to Outer Harbour?  Is this a wise use of the mode vs heavy rail?
  • who was consulted on the plan to inform it? were economists, constructors, planners, urban designers, etc asked to provide ‘testing’ of the initiatives?
  • has the plan been focused on people – i.e. where they are, where they work, where they play, and where they want to go?
  • is there a quantifiable patronage model that all initiatives can be measured against?
  • have measurable objectives been considered for each initiative (i.e., to ensure they are not only viable, but worthwhile??)

Only 12 months ago we were told an integrated plan was not required.  I am scratching my head a little – as basic integrated thinking would ask for exactly such a thing for the 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide, informing where intensity needs to occur, and where modes of travel and transport need to be focused.

The full PDF of the plan can be found here: http://www.premier.sa.gov.au/strongersa/pdf/building_a_stronger_sa–transport.pdf

I commend the South Australian Government on the overall approach to creating a strategy, now the devil is in the detail, and well done for such a comprehensive set of initiatives.  There are more questions to answer, however it is firmly a step in the right direction.

So, over to testing them…..

Bordeaux's integrated light rail system is customer and place focused. A good model for Adelaide.

Bordeaux’s integrated light rail system is customer and place focused. A good model for Adelaide.

Should we make cars in Australia – or is it too much of an ‘uphill battle’?

 holdenelizabeth_35An uphill battle lays ahead for one of Australia’s last remaining car manufacturing plants – Holden (in Adelaide’s working northern suburbs).  Holden has manufactured Australian designed cars like Kingswood, Torana, Commodore and others for over 50 years and is under pressure to economise and make more for less, according to a great story in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine.

The story highlights the increasing pressures on making things in Australia, and goes beyond creating jobs.  What is often forgotten in the press, as Federal Industry Minister Senator Kim Carr has often pointed out, are the plethora of allied and supporting suppliers, in South Australia and further afield, who supply Holden and Toyota (as the other last remaining plant, in Altona, Victoria) with the thousands of components that make up the modern car.    

Ford Australia, who announced recently they will pull up stumps in 2016, will end a long history of also designing, tooling, manufacturing and selling Australian made and designed cars – the Falcon nameplate is the world’s third oldest! Like Geelong in Victoria, where the Falcon and its derivatives were made for many decades, Elizabeth is part of Holden’s heritage in Australia – a shining beacon to the past, when northern Adelaide shone bright with new industry and innovation in a part of Australia that was far removed from it. 

What will the future hold for this vital industry? Can we sustain making things beyond just pulling raw material out of the ground? As an owner of European made cars, I am probably part of the reason, however I dont need a ute nor a sedan that can cover country kilometres, nor do I need a big car. However plenty of people do, or did.

After all, mining is still a big part of Australia’s economy, so is there an alternative to making consumer cars, to light industrial utes, trucks and vans? Why make ubiquitous cars we can import from Thailand or India or Japan where they are vastly cheaper to make? Or is it merely a sign of a mature, small, western economy with a highly skilled workforce, and our strength is our Intellectual property, not our masses of workers?? Should we export our intellect instead of competing with countries where labour is vastly cheaper?  It is a devastating impact when a factory closes, beyond the loss of jobs and impacts on our economy, it also damages our ‘psyche’; our collective national narrative of being able to ‘stand on our own two feet’.

On a positive note, the story talks about the diversification many component suppliers have undertaken to survive, and those companies need to be congratulated, who, linked to supplying Holden, have diversified…amazing innovation!


Images: Holden’s factory in Elizabeth, South Australia

Is access to a good coffee all we care about?

Now, I’ll state at the outset that I am a big fan of the design of the New York High Line.  And I love a good flat white.  I’m also prone to a bit of retail therapy now and then as well.  The High Line has enabled the regeneration of a disused asset as well as the gentrification of the streets and area below it.

It is lauded as one of the world’s best examples  of adaptive reuse of abandoned infrastructure.

However this is an alternative view of how some projects are funded, and at what cost to a city.

It is recommended reading to form your own view…it does raise a few questions in regards to equality?


What happens underneath?Image: Iwan Baan

What happens underneath?
Image: Iwan Baan

Are the areas underneath the High Line becoming too gentrified, and at what expense?Image: Iwan Baan

Are the areas underneath the High Line becoming too gentrified, and at what expense?
Image: Iwan Baan