Along with adaptation, developing resilience and decarbonising buildings and other infrastructure – in response to climate change – the expansion and densification of the city present massive challenges for state and local council planners.
Are vertical communities feasible? If so, will they be gated communities?
With a two-tier, global-local real estate market and growing numbers of international students, will inner Melbourne become host – or hostage – to a clutter of boarding-house-like apartments? And will those living in oversized, energy-guzzling new homes in fringe suburbs spend hours every day in private cars to reach work, school, retail and medical services?If planning once seemed a boring job entrenched in the minutiae of approving, rejecting or amending individual development plans, today every level of planner is engaged with stakeholders. They must argue the pros and cons of designing appropriate urban policies across vast and complex economic and social landscapes.
A recent planning proposal by RMIT University researchers Michael Buxton, Kath Phelan and Joe Hurley offers a vision of an environmentally efficient compact city. This would not only protect its cultural heritage and enhance its green spaces, but also create the possibility of building in environmental justice.
What is environmental justice?
“Environmental justice” is often spatially expressed. Say a landfill, polluting industry or airport is approved in an area of social deprivation. That means locals bear most disadvantages. Consumers elsewhere not only benefit from the resulting goods and services but are protected from the damaging impacts of their production.
An example of insidious environmental injustice, revealed by Australian health scientists, is air lead concentrations. This has caused almost one-third of the variance in suburban assault rates 21 years after exposure.
A current inquiry will suggest ways that environmental justice can be applied in the Victorian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). However, many sources of environmental injustice, such as planning, are beyond the EPA’s mandate. That makes these honourable aims a moot point.
Pockets of disadvantage often have historical and geographic sources. However, better urban planning can turn these areas into more desirable and healthy places to live. Appropriate planning strategies can minimise spatial disadvantage by ensuring services are well, and evenly, distributed throughout a city.
…the effective functioning of the city through access to employment and service provision, avoiding inequitable outcomes and increased social division, and protecting amenity and providing high-quality urban design and environmental conditions.
The thrust of the proposal dovetails well with a recently released report by other RMIT University researchers Tania Lewis, Victor Albert and Shae Hunter. They recommend:
Using an EPA social media campaign to move away from a focus purely on “risk” and “hazards”, where communities are positioned as “victims”, to encouraging a longer-term sense of urban environmental consciousness and engagement.
Anitra Nelson, Associate Professor, Centre for Urban Research (GUSS, RMIT), RMIT University