One suburb’s plan to take over the streets.
THE transformation of Chippendale, in inner city Sydney, began three years ago. “We held a ‘Food for the Future Fair’, invited local farmers and closed off three city blocks,” explains resident and sustainability expert Michael Mobbs.
The council donated 200 fruit trees to be given away, and people were shown how to plant them in front of their homes.
“From then on there was a change in momentum in the suburb. Now it’s understood that this is a place where we grow food and do things differently,” he says.
Mr Mobbs is the author of Sustainable House, a detailed guide to the way his family retrofitted their home, together with the lessons and results garnered over more than a decade.
Now he’s drawn a blueprint for overhauling the entire suburb. The ‘Sustainable Streets and Community Plan’ covers matters as diverse as transport, stormwater harvesting, heat-reflective roads, food growing, and greening buildings and businesses. It’s available to download from the Sustainable Chippendale website.
One of the most innovative proposals is to link rate rebates with householders’ sustainability behaviour. For example, residents who compost (and attend a council-run workshop) would receive a discount on their rates; likewise for businesses that grow vertical gardens, or householders who trap stormwater on their blocks.
“I’m trying to link financial and other rewards to public and private actions in our streets,” he says. Many of these changes would reduce councils’ spending on infrastructure, maintenance and waste collection.
Similarly, Mr Mobbs sees a role for a streamlined or pre-approval process for projects that meet defined eco-criteria. “So many councils say they want to be sustainable, but they don’t give priority to sustainable projects. You just go in the queue with the business-as-usual,” he says.
Last year, the residents submitted their plan to the City of Sydney. They’re still waiting for a decision. Although Mr Mobbs fears it has disappeared into the council’s “black box”, he and his neighbours are forging ahead with several activities, including installing bike parking, converting stormwater drains and running a box scheme for local fruit and vegies.
There are about 50 residents who are actively, but informally, involved: they tend to devise their schemes while they’re at work in the garden. “We’ve found that it’s better to do things, rather than hold meetings. It’s projects that bring change faster than discussions, I think,” he says.
Because the suburb comprises about 4000 workers, as well as 4000 residents, they’re also beginning to work with businesses – starting by training an employee from a local café about how to better recycle waste and grow food.
Mr Mobbs says the plan isn’t just about Chippendale; it’s the kind of transformation required – and replicable – in every city. Already, delegations from two Chinese provinces have visited for a briefing.
“It’s really important that we make our suburbs and our cities sustainable this side of 2020,” he says. “Government is too slow. Communities have to show the way – that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
But so far, the biggest change in Chippendale isn’t in the hard infrastructure. It’s become a place where neighbours introduce themselves in the streets.
“The ultimate goal of sustainability is not a conversation about water efficient taps. It’s really a conversation about how we see the world and relate to it.”