Bill Chandler said that during a recent trip to Europe he concluded that sustainability was no longer applicable and people now really needed to be thinking about adaptability. He thought to himself he was just being smart with words, but the recent Victorian fire-events suggest he was closer to being right than just smart. Communities in Victoria’s high fire risk areas need to think deeply and seriously about adaptability, as hidden within it is the sustainability they desire and, as evidenced by the recent fires, something they most certainly need.
Salvage from adversity
Melbourne City Council urban designer, David Prior, encouraged salvaging something from adversity; and David was not just thinking about salvaging lives or property. His view was much more long term, and he felt it was critical that we salvage some workable good ideas from the mess that is this tragedy. Although he did not articulate it in so few words, it seemed he felt that somewhere in the chaos left from the fires was the key to assembling and more secure future.
Bruce Echberg discussed the possibility of those communities returning to a whole different set up that saw them living in a much more concentrated area with bushland kept well back from the purpose-constructed residential areas. That, of course, make great sense, but brings with it a contradiction in terms – those who live in the high-risk fire areas do so because they want to be free what they consider the crush of suburban living – they want to enjoy the country “feel” homes in bush bring. A concentrated style of living might bring them safety, but it also puts them back into an environment from which they choose to escape. Thinking about Bruce’s idea, the cleared area around the living zone would be an ideal place/space for a community garden, something that will be increasingly important as climate change begins to really take hold.
Dessert at lunch was a broad discussion about evacuation of those areas threatened by fire: Can you do it? Should you do it? And would you do it? Would people leave their homes and livelihoods? Should people have to? Who would be responsible? Who decides when it is time to leave? Do we have a previously agreed “tipping point”- that moment when it is obvious that this fire has become bigger than anything we can adequately deal with? Bush fire survival in the view of most seems to be locked into the contemporary view of individualism and, rather than considering how a community might survive such a testing dilemma, it seems that most think first of the individual. Anecdotal research suggests many see people threatened by fire should scurry to safety in a cellar under individual house constructed a result of change to building codes.
Rather than permitting the re-building of individual homes in fire risk areas, maybe we should push for a community built around concentrated living that encourages, and allows for, defence against such drama at an intensive community level.