CRC for Low Carbon Living: How to design and build truly sustainable cities – a guide

CRC for Low Carbon Living

There’s more to a planning precinct than marketing buzzwords such as “vibrant”,  “lively” and “activated”.

A genuinely progressive precinct is more sustainable, connected and resource-efficient, according to a new guide to low carbon precincts from the Cooperative Research Centres for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL).

The goal is to help planners, architects, developers and builders develop at different scales.

The guide sets out ways to design and deliver places that are better for people and the planet, and helps sort the contenders from the pretenders for buyers or renters looking for a neighbourhood that will help them live a low-carbon lifestyle.

It’s not just about branding, says guide co-author and professor of sustainability at Curtin University, Peter Newman.

The concept of the low carbon precinct is founded on the idea of taking the design approach from a single apartment block and applying it to a group of buildings that can be delivered with shared infrastructure that is more resource-efficient, has lower emissions and is ultimately more sustainable. It helps redefine urban regeneration from backyard in-fill that dominates in the middle suburbs, to a more substantial collection of blocks that can all benefit from a shared approach.

photo of the cover of the CRC's Guide to Low Carbon Precincts

The goal is to help planners, architects, developers and builders develop at a different scale, and to seize the opportunity offered by brownfields and infill sites to improve the built environment’s performance and functionality. At the moment backyard in-fill is not working in terms of human appeal or environmental outcomes.

It also presents a workable alternative to endless expansion on the urban fringe by laying out all the steps required to create liveable, connected places that sell well and create a better city overall.

Newman and his co-authors, Giles Thomson, Peter Newton and Josh Byrne, bring both national and international expertise to the topic.

The guide starts with setting the context: we must cut carbon emissions from the built environment to help mitigate climate change. It also aligns the principles of precinct-making with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, which include the social and equity dimensions of sustainability as well as other environmental goals like biodiversity and recycling waste.

The guide outlines the challenges for planners to ensure cities and communities are compact and transit-oriented, with small ecological footprints that actually improve livability and affordability.

Precincts are the building blocks for cities.

“Precincts are the building blocks for cities,” the guide says.

If we design and plan our precincts efficiently –  including better design and delivery of energy, water, waste and accessibility – we can transform our cities, one neighbourhood at a time.

The guide draws on case studies, including the award-winning White Gum Valley in Western Australia, Central Park in Sydney, Bowden in South Australia, West Village UC Davis in California and Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm.

White Gum Valley in Western Australia
West Village UC Davis in California
Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm
Bowden in South Australia
Central Park in Sydney

Creating more density while still ensuring a high standard of liveability

Nature-based design is highlighted, showing how it can deliver benefits such as improving the aesthetic and functional dimensions of a locality. For example, public open green space encourages active lifestyles and social interaction.

On the energy front, the guide explains a range of renewable technologies and energy management technologies that can be incorporated into a precinct development, including leading-edge technologies such as microgrids and blockchain renewable energy trading.

Plan with people, not just for them.

The goals and principles of water sensitive urban design are explained, with examples of how they work in practice. Methods and technologies for reducing the amount of waste going to landfill, and managing waste and recycling in more effective ways are showcased, such as a vacuum waste management system being installed at the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

The guide also outlines how to navigate the process of development approval and delivery, spotlighting the need to plan with people, not just for them. It also singles out some of the key planning and policy moves that will enable a widespread adoption of low carbon precinct principles.

Newman says that a developer could, for example, achieve a substantial increase in the number of dwellings possible on a site while also upgrading the common infrastructure handling energy, water and waste.

The precinct approach will more rapidly transform our cities

Everybody wins, he says. The surrounding community receives extra benefits from upgraded infrastructure and services and is consulted as part of the planning and delivery process.

Owners wanting to sell to developers may be in a position to negotiate a better deal; and those who wish to stay in the same area but move to a smaller dwelling retain all the advantages of a vibrant, sustainable address.

The city also gains because it can redevelop brownfields (abandoned or underused industrial or commercial sites) and greyfields (ageing but occupied tracts of inner and middle ring suburbia) in a way that is “sorely needed”, Newman says.

We need to get people to live and work closer together.

By unlocking land in suburbs close to transport for denser development that also prioritises liveability, green space and sustainable resource use, new developments can bring the community, local government and state governments together in positive ways, and deliver the infrastructure that communities need and want.

Newman says the precinct approach will more rapidly transform our cities.

“We have got to stop the sprawl; it is not working. We need to get people to live and work closer together. And if we can revive and extend existing infrastructure, it is always cheaper.”

Download the Guide to Low Carbon Precincts here.

CRC for Low Carbon Living

University | Australia