A British initiative foreshadows a new approach for Australian developers.
Pooran Desai lives and works in a world-renowned urban project that pioneers eco- and community-conscious design. The Beddington Zero (fossil) Energy Development (BedZED), in South London, comprises 100 houses and units, as well as commercial, community and public space.
Its residents consume half as much electricity and drive nearly two-thirds fewer kilometres than the national average. They’ve got good access to public transport, bikeways and fresh local food. They also know about 20 neighbours by name.
“The overlap between sustainable lifestyle, community spirit, good health and low carbon emissions is very strong,” says Mr Desai, founder of BioRegional, which completed the BedZED project in 2002.
That holistic approach may soon find a home in Australia. Mr Desai visited Melbourne recently to work with local developers and councils. He met with Moreland City Council to discuss the Coburg Initiative, the council’s plan to create new housing, retail space and jobs in central Coburg.
Among his key arguments is that developers must carefully manage vehicle access onsite. “Cars connect people over long distances, but they actually disconnect you from your neighbours,” Mr Desai says. “At BedZED we removed cars from the centre of the development. We only have limited parking at the periphery. Kids play in the streets and in the public space, and parents don’t worry. Then parents meet each other and start talking.”
BioRegional has created the One Planet Communities framework, a set of principles and targets to help property developers reach for the highest environmental and social standards. It begins with the ecological footprint concept: assessing what the planet can produce renewably and how much of those resources we’re using.
“It turns out that globally we’re consuming about 40 per cent more each year than the planet can sustain,” he says. “But countries are consuming at very different rates.” If everyone on earth lived like the average Australian, we would need three planets to meet our consumption.
The One Planet principles include zero waste, sustainable materials, food, water and transport, and equity and local economy. They are now being applied to about 100,000 homes around the world, from the USA to the UAE.
“We try to make it easy for people to live happy and healthy lives, but within a fair share of the earth’s resources, so they only have a one-planet footprint. We can do that at the same time as increasing quality of life,” he says.
Barangaroo, a high-profile redevelopment in inner city Sydney, is a candidate to join the network. Lend Lease won the bid for the first stage, a commercial and residential precinct next to the existing CBD. The company is working with BioRegional on an action plan that would see the project meet the One Planet guidelines.
Mr Desai believes that the development industry is on the brink of a significant shift, one that will focus on creating sustainable lifestyles. The newest BioRegional development in the UK, One Brighton, has shown the model to be commercially successful. The 172 apartments were built for the same cost as conventional projects, and have delivered higher returns.
“One Brighton is completely car free,” Mr Desai says. “As a developer, we save huge amounts of money on that, so we invested in the renewable energy system and in higher quality, natural building materials. It’s selling better than other developments in England’s south-east.”