Five Principles for Sustainable Communities 11

Saturday, February 7th, 2015
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The GBCA’s Green Star – Communities National Framework has established five principles to help and encourage the development of new and existing sustainable communities in Australia.

The Green Star – Communities rating tool is one of the world’s first independent national schemes able to measure and certify the sustainability of community-level projects. Released as a pilot in June 2012, the tool has been developed by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) in collaboration with government, public and private sector developers.

The framework aims to provide national consistency and a common language around the definition of best practice sustainable communities, encourage innovation and excellence in the approach to creating future communities, promote integration across the field of sustainability issues related to communities, facilitate stakeholder engagement during the evolution of sustainable communities and provide a basis for ongoing assessment and evaluation of sustainable community evolution.

“A sustainable community is the one that has aspirations for the future that acknowledge the challenges brought about by change. It is liveable, resilient, diverse and adaptable,” the GBCA said. “It strives for a lower carbon and ecological footprint. A sustainable community evolves through policy and collaborative practice that respects and embraces the aspirations of existing and future community stakeholders.”

For the purposes of this framework, the term ‘community’ comprises any precinct, place, neighbourhood or other geographic area that includes infrastructure designed to provide energy and water, manage waste, communications, technology and transport; private and public buildings and public realm; people living or visiting the place; biological systems within the environment; economy, and governance and services.

To assist communities in Australia and internationally to meet a sustainable future, the Green Star – Communities team established five principles:

1. Enhance liveability

According to this principle, communities should provide a diverse array of dwellings, buildings and facilities that reflect their broad socio-economic needs. They should also provide access to local services such as transport, food, health and conveniences.

Healthy, safe and secure communities should be enabled and promoted through partnerships, effective urban design and landscape planning that support physical activity, providing opportunities for and raising the awareness of healthy activities.

Diverse and inclusive environments for all ages, abilities, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds of the community should be provided. The built environment should be flexible with the capacity to adapt to changing community and individual needs and to expectations, whether influenced by the economy, environment, culture or other life circumstances. Creating opportunities for a diversity of uses and activities will enable communities to meet future challenges.

2. Create opportunities for economic prosperity

Create opportunities for economic prosperity

This principle highlights the importance of promoting education and learning, providing opportunities for the community to access a variety of education and learning systems.

By enhancing employment opportunities, creating diverse employment opportunities that meet the needs of local and regional communities and facilitating access to them, communities will increase the production and procurement of local goods and services.

It is also important to attract investment, providing key infrastructure that enables community and business connectivity, to encourage business and community innovation through initiatives that recognise and reward local excellence, and to promote efficiency and effectiveness.

3. Foster environmental responsibility

Foster environmental responsibility

Sustainable communities should respect the environmental systems that support them. They should protect and restore the natural environmental values of their bio-regions and promote infrastructure, transport and buildings that reduce their ecological footprint.

This principle includes the promotion of environmentally efficient systems for water and waste management and reuse, sustainable energy generation and distribution, and waste recycling.

Communities are encouraged to provide sustainable transport opportunities and to reuse existing sites and buildings. It is also important to educate communities on their individual and collective impacts by making resource savings and consumption data explicit within the built environment.

The objective is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, contaminants and other pollutants to land, water and atmosphere and to minimize the risk of extreme natural events and the impacts of climate change.

4. Embrace design excellence

Embrace design excellence

To ensure a community is sustainable, its design should consider density, mixed use buildings, connectivity and the protection of valuable land uses such as agriculture.

While maintaining flexible and adaptable approaches, communities should create opportunities to retrofit and revitalise existing precincts, places and buildings, providing for development, planning flexibility and adaptability to support continuous improvement of the built environment.

Communities should also be able to adapt effectively to climate change and other environmental and physical conditions so that people’s comfort, health, safety and well-being are enhanced.

The aim behind this concept is to reinforce a sense of place, bolster community identity and include local character within design. Creating a sense of connection with nature and encouraging high quality, integrated and safe public realm spaces that meet the needs of the local community is crucial.

To apply this principle, designers and planners should conserve and celebrate cultural heritage and archaeological assets across landscapes, places and sites; create functional, vibrant, stimulating and memorable places that evolve for people to live, work and play; and promote accessibility.

They should also place higher density buildings close to public transport and services to encourage active transport, promote public health and enhance public transport use, encouraging accessibility, diversity and mixed use development that can reflect local values and meet both local and metropolitan needs.

5. Demonstrate visionary leadership and strong governance

Demonstrate visionary leadership and strong governance

Creating sustainable communities is not possible without leadership and strong governance frameworks that are transparent, accountable and adaptable. They enable active partnerships to build capacity and achieve a shared vision and deliver stakeholder benefit.

In applying this principle, communities should foster sustainable cultures and behaviours; raise awareness among stakeholders and provide education and learning opportunities that enable more sustainable practices; and encourage sustainable behaviours and systems for monitoring environmental data, sharing information and allowing for continual improvement mechanisms .

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  1. Amanda Todaro

    Great initiative from the GBCA as always. Would be great to see in perhaps six months which communities have actually used the principles to direct their own design.

  2. Jim Stiles

    A couple of years ago I worked out 5 properties for sustainable buildings. They don't necessarily map precisely to communities, but I offer them for people's consideration:

    Efficiency – if we are to have prosperity while consuming fewer resources, efficiency in every aspect of everything we do is going to be key

    Productivity – the more that people provide for themselves, their neighbors and their communities the more secure and efficient they will all be.

    Durability – most of what we actually need changes little from one generation to the next – water, food, shelter. People obsess over the newest gadgets, but mostly they have amazingly little to do with the essentials. If the infrastructure for water, food, and shelter are durable, less effort will be required in replacing them.

    Adaptability – some requirements do change over time (within families and organizations certainly, and to a lesser extent within communities). If the infrastructure is durable (as I believe it should be), real effort should be made to enhance adaptability.

    Small Footprint – people come to have huge impacts on our environment. This involves many choices we make. When we do we should lean toward choices that reduce our footprint.

  3. Francesco Domenico Moccia

    the five principles will be effective for incremental change on the long run. con them promote and accelerate strong and speedy change? One more problem is interpretetion. Can planners withouth ecological culture, knowledge of environmental problems and professional tools contribute to a sustainable change just responding to principles?

    • fernando alfaro

      I'm agree with Prof. Domenico answer. How people without this knowledges could design, or redesign, our cities?
      And then, why when we talk about future cities, sustainability… the car must be disappear?
      I think it's impossible for people now and in the future live without cars. Maybe i'm wrong, maybe not, but.. why not propose policies to make possible people, bikes, biodiversity and cars coexist?

  4. Juris Greste

    I confess to getting quite frustrated at discussions like this. Principles, however many in number, are fine. But we will only get there when we affect a societal mind set change that "we are on this earth to stay"!!! It takes more than the likes of us. We are wasting our mental, physical and emotional energies as long as our leaders talk the 'growth' nonsense.

    • Jim Stiles

      In my experience there are three ways to influence politicians (which I think is what you are talking about when you say 'leaders'). The most powerful is popular sentiment that can be turned into votes. The second is money that is a proven resource for garnering votes. And the third is logic, such as five principles for this, or 12 rules for that. I think that most politicians do value logic and all, but unfortunately have little time and focus left after coping with the demands of (re)election and the susbidiary demands of special interests (not just the big money variety).

      Since we reflect a tiny sliver of popular sentiment and perhaps even smaller financial resources, we are left with logic. And although it is not especially effective, it is what we have. Personally I don't see this having much impact until the effects of climate change and resource depletion start hurting large numbers of people and monied interests.

  5. yogesh vaish

    Drfintely all important aspects are being taled abt. my point is simple these should be demand based, demand emerging from communities, not determined by some outside agencies and agents. It has not to be giver and taker mind-set, it has to be self evolving, participatory and implementable based. There thus cannot be one or another specific way.

  6. Rick Rybeck

    An important discussion and good comments. But, as some have noted, if "smart growth" is so smart, how come there's so much "dumb growth" going on?

    Part of the problem is that we think that sustainable development (or smart growth) are merely matters of intention. Intention is important, but it is not determinative. Economic incentives are key. Unfortunately, many economic incentives encourage sprawl and "dumb growth." Fortunately, economic incentives can be improved through government action.

    • Rick Rybeck

      Under Principle #2, Create Opportunities For Prosperity, there should be a corollary that requires publicly-created land values to be recaptured by and recycled for the use of the community that created them. In this way, infrastructure projects become financially self-sustaining, rather than providing economic windfalls to a few landowners. Establishing the proper balance between "access" fees and "user" fees will help ensure sustainable prosperity for our communities.

  7. Fernando D'Acosta López

    My personal appreciation is that environmental issues are mainly a "fashion", this is the time where this issues becomes "compulsory" for everyone (individuals, professionals and government). There are many approaches but not many are followed.

  8. Angela Conte

    Its not principles to a sustainable community but more to the point of a sustainable/survivable future for humans through access to the following needs:
    1. Clean air
    2. Clean water
    3. Clean nutrients
    4. Sleep in safe and healthy shelter
    5. Cultural and legal right of every human being to participate freely and equally in all social and economic opportunities.

    Earth’s right to its ecological needs through:
    1. Clean air
    2. Clean water
    3. Debris and chemical free earth surface and soils.
    4. Right to balance and existence of all species of fauna, flora and ecosystems.
    5. Protection from human, (or other species), overuse of ecological resources.

    Since many of the human needs and earth’s ecosystem needs are the same, there are actually only six bottom-line principles to sustaining life on earth:
    1. Clean air
    2. Clean water
    3. Clean surface and soil
    4. Human shelter for sleep
    5. Equality of human social inclusion
    6. Protection from abuse and depletion of all that is in our planet’s ecosystem

    I can't think of anything else that isn't covered in some way by one of these necessities which would make it superfluous. And if communities could be then designed around them so they everyone has access to these without impinging on any other one, we are golden. Even having respect for the earth and environment as stated above contributes to people getting more exercise, which helps them sleep better.