These settlements we have lost, and many others like them, are essentially poorly planned, unsustainable communities in the sense that their carbon footprint is a high one. If we are serious about dealing with the cause of these extreme climate events, and resulting more intense fires, we should be thinking about new forms of rural towns that approach a zero carbon footprint.
Perhaps we should no longer allow, and we certainly shouldn’t encourage, the rebuilding of detached houses scattered through the countryside, whether in fire prone areas or not.
Australia seems to be one of the worst countries in the world at allowing the cardependent scattering of houses through the landscape. Only our historic country towns have any semblance of walkability and town edge, and most of them have oversized blocks and streets designed for turning a horse and cart. Even in these towns, this structure has usually broken down over recent decades with lower density “lifestyle” housing growing like a cancer around the fringes.
This form of housing is fundamentally unsustainable whether it occupies forest or open agricultural land. Nearly all planning schemes provide for this development type because there is a “demand” for larger lifestyle blocks.
New forms of settlement are possible in rural settings where people could live in economical, energy-efficient housing, where they can have close contact with nature through views and short walks to natural areas. These communities could have sophisticated recreation and community facilities, local food production and employment – all without the need to own or drive a car. Sewerage, drainage and waste could all be put to good use on site without huge external impacts through properly planned development. Housing type could be varied but the key would be to provide a large proportion of efficient multi level medium density apartments so the money saved can be spent on, for example, quality public space, and energy systems, and because the density would ensure that most things needed, can be close by.
Government leadership is key
The key to this is government leadership and rigorous design of medium and higher density housing – within a carefully planned landscape setting. Why not use some of this fire rebuilding effort and energy to build just one experimental replacement community that is seriously designed to achieve a zero carbon footprint using the best of our science and expertise?
I imagine this much more ambitious goal would solve the fire risk as a matter of minor detail. Europe has been building these experimental communities for over a decade but to my knowledge there are no serious prototypes being seriously contemplated or discussed in Australia even though we have the expertise and resources to deliver them.