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Green Cities gets buzzed about the future

green cities 2018

Biophilia, the rise of 6D BIM and fresh approaches to climate change, reconciliation and wellbeing were the megatrends getting people excited at last week’s Green Cities conference in Melbourne.

Ross Garnaut set the tone at the outset, talking attendees through the challenges with climate change and achieving engagement.

University of Canberra associate professor Dr Jacki Schirmer inspired the crowd with findings of her research into the wellbeing impacts of timber in buildings. Her work aims to quantify the benefits of biophilia.

“The feedback from the crowd at the break was that she was one of the most inspiring speakers of the day,” GBCA senior manager Green Star solutions Nicole Sullivan said.

Another highlight was the reconciliation breakfast.

Ms Sullivan said one of the key messages from the speakers was that “we actually need to be working with the Indigenous community rather than for them”.

In achieving reconciliation, “relationships are absolutely key to success”.

“The way to start is just to start a conversation. Don’t go in with a 10-point plan, go in and have a cup of tea and listen.”

It was vital not to be a “fly-in fly-out advisor” but to genuinely engage with Aboriginal communities, she said.

We need to get radical

Ms Sullivan moderated the “Radical Ideas for Reinvention” session, which had as its theme the urgency of reducing emissions and meeting the Paris targets.

“It demands we get radical; really nothing else will do,” she said.

Dexus legal counsel Claire Hashman spoke about how green leasing can be used as a mechanism for change to create better outcomes for both people and the environment. Hashman highlighted resources developed by the Better Buildings Partnership, including lease clause templates that tenants can take to their legal department to help drive change.

Dr Deo Prasad from the CRC for Low Carbon Living told the crowd that achieving the Paris targets was reliant on behaviour change – not just new technologies and ways of designing buildings.

What’s needed is a “new mindset” to achieve different outcomes. This would mean, for example, that instead of having a 10 star home that is occupied by a two star person, we have 10 star people.

Let’s depoliticise planning and improve performance

Colleen Peterson, chief executive of Ratio Consultants, spoke on the need to reform planning – however rather than a call for change in policy as the primary focus, her thesis is that reform starts with us, our neighbours and friends.

There is a need to de-politicise planning. There is also a need for a major change in how some issues are tackled. For example, maybe there needs to be push-back regarding the assumption that people need cars. Maybe instead people should have to make the case for why they need a car.

ClimateWorks program manager Eli Court called for a clear and ambitious trajectory for Australia’s National Construction Code. There also needs to be a way of addressing the question of existing buildings and influencing their performance.

Lorraine Moore, sustainability manager Cbus Property, gave a presentation on the new Collins Arch development, also known as the “Pantscraper”. This project, involving the redevelopment of an entire city block in the Melbourne CBD, is looking to deliver benefits for the environment, the economy, people and the city.

It is a mixed-use development where a large amount of retail, office space, apartments and hotel space is balanced with substantial landscape architecture works.

Digitalisation the double-edged sword

The final speaker in the Radical Ideas session, and winner of the SMS vote by attendees on favourite speaker, was Morphosis director Simon Carter.

He spoke on the “double-edged sword” of digitalisation, explaining that while there is a tendency to see a lot of positive things in digitalisation, we also need to keep our eyes wide open for the downsides.

One example is a bricklaying robot developed in Western Australia. It can lay around 1000 bricks an hour, compared to the 300 to 400 a day laid by a human bricklayer. However there is a whole social side to consider before replacing human brickies with robots.

A holistic view is needed, he said. There is also a need to understand the implications of digitalisation in terms of privacy and security.

Australia performing well on global stage

AIRAH executive manager, government relations and technical services Phil Wilkinson said there were some very “big picture themes” at GC2018. Social sustainability was one of them, and something rising in importance, he said.

Net zero was another big topic, and the key message was “don’t be afraid – we’ve all got to get there”.

The “Panel of the Chiefs” session, which brought together Green Building Council leaders from around the world, highlighted how the green building focus can vary. Overall, Australia is doing really well on green building, Mr Wilkinson said. The WELL standard, which the GBCA has had a large part in shaping, is gaining serious traction.

In Asia, good governance is seeing results. In Singapore, for example, the government has backed the use of 6D BIM as the way of the future. 6D takes in not only the design and design information, but also the construction scheduling, quantity surveying information and the operation and facilities maintenance phase of the building.

The facilities management aspect of 6D BIM “is the golden goose we are striving for in Australia,” Mr Wilkinson said.

“We all need to get behind the facility management industry to help love our buildings and keep them thriving.  A bit like a good garden needs a good gardener – you can’t just plant it and forget about it.”

In South Africa, resilience has come to the forefront, Mr Wilkinson said. The need for resilience has been highlighted by serious water scarcity issues. Other areas being tackled are in the social justice realm, including ethical consumption.

Big data and technology was another big picture theme. Topics discussed included cyber security, and Adam Beck spoke on taking the buzzwords out of the smart cities conversation.

Albanese recommits to Major Cities Unit

Labor will re-establish the Major Cities Unit cut by the federal Coalition under Tony Abbott if elected, shadow minister infrastructure, transport, cities and regional development Anthony Albanese reconfirmed at the conference, after announcing the move at another conference last year.

Mr Albanese made the pledge at a session with Property Council of Australia chief executive Ken Morrison on what is needed to reset the agenda for the built environment.

He also reaffirmed his commitment in post-event remarks to The Fifth Estate.

It is proposed funding for the Major Cities Unit will come from scrapping the Infrastructure Financing Unit created by the current government last year. Also known as the Infrastructure and Project Financing Agency, its mission is to use innovative financing measures to attract more private investment for public projects.

However, the creation of the IFU was opposed by Labor. Experts and industry groups including Infrastructure Partnerships Australia also raised questions, suggesting there was no shortage of private finance available for investment in infrastructure, and what was needed was more Commonwealth investment.

The IFU is a solution looking or a problem that does not exist, according to Labor.

Mr Albanese said the $7.4 million saved by abolishing the IFU would be reallocated to Infrastructure Australia to “enhance its ability to deliver on its core functions of assessing projects, producing a pipeline of projects and recommending financing mechanisms”.

“The savings will also be used to re-establish the Major Cities Unit, scrapped by the Coalition, within Infrastructure Australia.

“The former Labor Government created this unit to research and advise on policies aimed at improving the productivity, sustainability and liveability of Australian cities.”

Mr Albanese said just as it did in its previous incarnation, a reborn MCU would focus on all major Australian cities, not just the capitals.

Being at Green Cities brought the importance of collaboration and the need for policy leadership to the fore, he said.

“The takeaway for me was that the growing acceptance that building sustainable and liveable cities requires closer collaboration between councils, states, the private sector and the community.

“There is an acceptance in the sector that the federal government has an important role to play in driving that collaboration through policy leadership.

“We also need to intensify engagement with the development industry because it has an important role in not just creating buildings, but creating better communities.”

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