It’s Time for a National Green Infrastructure Policy 1

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Wednesday, September 30th, 2015
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The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) has written to the Australian Government requesting that the country takes a global leadership position on Green Infrastructure and formally acknowledges Australia’s urban landscapes as key drivers for improved health, environmental and social outcomes by 2055.

A National Green Infrastructure Strategy is the figurehead of four key recommendations made in a submission to Infrastructure Australia’s 15 Year Infrastructure Plan for Australia.

With close to 80 per cent of Australian adults predicted to be overweight or obese by 2025, AILA is urging the Government to consider the tangible physical, social, economic and environmental impacts well-designed public spaces and cities have been proven to produce.

The four strategic recommendations proposed by AILA’s submission are:

  1. A National Green Infrastructure Strategy from the federal government to provide guidance on how infrastructure projects can be a catalyst for enhanced landscape outcomes through green infrastructure investment. The strategy will include a policy statement to articulate the government’s position on infrastructure investment and investment action areas
  2. Minimum ‘SITES’ Ratings for federally funded projects to encourage a global standard of integration of natural and physical infrastructure
  3. A National Green Infrastructure Training Program for built environment practitioners, including engineers, planners and senior level policy makers involved in the planning, design and development of infrastructure across a diversity of asset classes
  4. A Project Briefing Guide for Integrating Landscape through Infrastructure

In proposing its key recommendations, AILA cites the global transition away from single purpose ‘grey infrastructure’ to more multi-purpose infrastructure that mimics nature, provides critical ecosystem services and promotes healthy and active living.

With state and local governments primed for accelerating green infrastructure opportunities at the project development level, national leadership from Infrastructure Australia would catalyse greater value for federally funded infrastructure investments.

The four strategic recommendations are to be included in the 15 Year Infrastructure Plan, and align with the federal government’s noted aspirations for the plan (themselves reflective of an industry led approach) which includes:

  • Embedding the benefits to society of green infrastructure – driving national prosperity
  • Enhancing our quality of life
  • Leveraging federal, state, local government and private capital
  • Ensuring federally funded infrastructure is resilient and designed to work with nature, not against it
  • Providing better integration of land use planning and infrastructure planning
  • Building more integrated governance across all levels of government to deliver better value for the community.

By providing a national policy on green infrastructure which is measurable and assessed against nationally agreed criteria, industry and the broader professions have more incentive and better opportunities to embed the benefits of a greener approach to projects, as well as creating better places and landscapes as a result.

The new policy is backed up with training programs to measure their projects via the SITES tool, a nationally accredited Green Infrastructure Training Program, and a very useful Project Briefing Guide for Integrating Landscape through Infrastructure Development. These tools will make embedding the approach, and real outcomes, more achievable for the private sector, demonstrating wider benefits as well as project benefits.

Ultimately, the proposed changes would add significant value to all projects beyond their initial capital costs. AILA would argue that to do nothing and continue on our current chartered course is a far worse scenario for the health and well-being of Australia’s future.

The 2015 Intergenerational Report Australia 2055 notes that “Australian Government health expenditure is projected to increase as a proportion of GDP from 4.2% in 2014/15 to 5.7% of GDP in 2054/55.”

Approximately 80 per cent of the rise in costs to the taxpayer funded health system relates to non-demographic factors such as the general population seeing more doctors, having more tests, and taking more medicine. With an aging population, the physical and mental benefits to society of regular engagement with the natural environment are well known and documented. The time to embed the benefits must start now at a national level.

The costs of chronic disease to western society has overtaken infectious diseases as a major cause of death. Over 60 per cent of Australians are considered overweight or obese now, and this figure is expected to grow to 80 per cent if we make no changes to how we develop our cities and regions.

The embedded costs of a more holistic integration of green infrastructure and a greener city landscape will address these issues. For example, the benefits of a greener street, more street trees, better footpaths for a more walkable suburb, creating pleasant natural outlooks, enabling more bike riding opportunities (leisure and commuting) and finally enjoying the natural environment are simple solutions that provide more incentive for Australians to exercise and have a healthier lifestyle.

AILA also strongly argues that any capital costs associated with more landscape in our cities far outweighs the short-term cost savings of the common value management pressures or removing landscape from any given infrastructure project. Often seen as afterthoughts, an integrated landscape solution is everything but an afterthought.

Our cities and regions are very complex things, often guided by three levels of government and their associated policies, strategies, codes, election promises, community-led demands and many other conflicting requirements.

One of AILA’s principal objectives is to advocate the benefits of ‘the space between buildings’ as being of equal if not greater value than the floor space where most of us live, work or play.

The benefits of fresh air, walking, sitting, strolling, watching, enjoying, riding, playing and living in our streets, squares, parks, riverfront, harbours and gardens is a human need, and access to quality green space is a core part of democratic society.

Think of your favourite green spaces – any one of Sydney’s majestic harbour front parks, a stroll through Adelaide’s magnificent botanic gardens, a ride along Melbourne’s Yarra River, enjoying Kings Park in Perth, relaxing within Darwin’s new waterfront, promenading along Salamanca Place in Hobart and enjoying the planned landscape of Canberra’s Parliamentary Triangle. These are experiences all involving an immersion in the landscape.

We are making the strong case of the importance of green space, how integration is essential, and how greener thinking can make our cities better, healthier, successful places. Landscape architects are trained and have the experience to embed, create, highlight and deliver these things.

Often the ‘hero’ in our cities and towns is made to be the building.

We need great buildings in our city – and there are so many across all of Australia – yet it is the brilliance of cities where green space is prominent. Colonel Light’s plan for Adelaide that is surrounded by 770 hectares of green space – the lungs of the city – with six squares for breathing space ordered through the plan, Sydney’s remnant harbour front reserves and the Botanic Gardens, Brisbane’s Southbank, Melbourne’s beautiful parks, Hobart’s Mt Wellington, Perth’s Kings Park, Canberra’s planned and integrated park lands; these are all the landscape features of our cities. We may sometimes take these places for granted, but when they are impacted by development or threats, we react. Melbourne’s Royal Park is a great example of the community impacts of infrastructure development.

Most professionals and developers are aware of the benefits of a well-designed and integrated landscape. Our task is to continue to build the value ‘beyond the project’ to the city, to achieve carbon reduction, better shade, connected green space, food security, and to embed the benefits in government policy to ensure the societal challenges of obesity and heart attacks are removed by improving our health and well-being.

It’s time Australia recognised the benefits of green infrastructure to chart a greener future for us all.

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  1. Ian Cleland

    still does not go far enough