As over 80% of our population lives in urbanised centres, we better start factoring into the Garnaut prescription the role and arrangement of our cities and towns – so far highly carbon energy profligate and inefficient. After all, it is in our houses, our streets, neighbourhoods, shopping places, employment areas and play grounds – our ‘stage of life’ – where this ‘new’ low carbon future will be acted out and paid for. We have two strategy options:
Retrofit our cities and towns on a broad scale
Even by 2050, the bigger proportion of our cities and towns will have already been laid out and built. What we in Australia do to newly-built parts after 2008 will make relatively little difference to how our cities and towns perform in the low carbon era. Retrofitting means adopting a very different mindset from the practices of the past. The tools and methods of the last 50 years will not yield the results we need in the post carbon future. Retrofitting means making neighbourhood centres and local areas less dependent on goods, services, amenities and opportunities a long distance away.
In the longer term (20-30 years) we have to wean ourselves off the high level of reliance on energy just for urban transport. This change can only be brought about by rearranging the way we live in cities and towns, not leaving it until tomorrow but starting today. And the cost savings will be billions – in dollars, tonnes of CO2 and time.
Make appropriate personal choices and decisions
If I were buying my residence now, what would my main criteria be? My overarching considerations would be: can my everyday life continue without undue hardship and not be entirely dependent on personal transport. It does not mean that I may not have some form of motorised vehicle. The kind of tests I would apply are:
- Public transport – can I reach many of my necessary destinations with public transport? I would prefer the fixed infrastructure kind – train, dedicated bus ways, or light rail.
- Every day amenities – can I reach the basic necessary shops – food, some clothing, hardware, pharmaceuticals – by walking? I might still drive but the walking criterion is a conceptual measure of distance.
- Services – doctors and dentists and other health services are not required every day or week, but I want to be sure that I would not be spending half a day travelling for a new set of spectacles to see the doctor of my choice.
- Educational and leisure amenities – If I had school children I would want to make sure that they can get to their respective schools either by walking, cycling or public transport. As to leisure amenities, I would want to be able to reach my local cinema and DVD store on foot or bike.
- Recreational amenities – I would certainly want to be able to get to a local park or sports venue without having to drive. Check that there is one.
- Work – if I were a building trades person or a travelling salesman, my mobility choices would be rather limited to either my own car (or perhaps a battery powered scooter) or bike. However, within the period of living memory, there have been times when builder’s labourers did get to their work sites without each one having their own car.
- Flood and inundation prone areas – steer very clear of sites that could be affected by rising water levels such as water tables. Do not rely on flood maps of the past.
- Trees and greenery – as temperatures rise, the comfort and temperature effect of greenery will increase. Vegetation cools. Paving is a heat sink.
This kind of location specification is not impossible. In a single word – localise. There are large parts of our cities and many towns that can meet it now. As we, the Market, demand less carbon and energy intensive locations, we will be supporting retrofitting. Localisation and retrofitting are two sides of the same coin. How we build and arrange our housing has great carbon and cost relevance too, but that is another story.
Expecting to meet the carbon challenge without adjusting our cities is like telling your doctor you want a lung cancer cure without giving up smoking!