In my work as a designer of residential buildings around Melbourne, I am now constantly being asked about, and having to implement “sustainability measures” in housing. While I applaud these measures, it seems odd to me that there are still sections of our lives and communities which are not subject to the same scrutiny or application of sustainability. Sustainability is not something that only relates to our built environment. It applies to every aspect of our lives. It relates to our workplaces, our schools, our recreational endeavours, our cars and our governments, and yet most of these exist without scrutiny, control, consequence or accountability.
If we are serious about achieving sustainability, we must take a global-based look at all aspects of our lives with environmental consequence/benefit in mind. We must ascertain where improvements can be made and where our shortfalls are. We must also look further afield to possibilities in regional areas, which might allow us to achieve a balance or a ‘sustainability’ for everyone. With this, we can also identify areas that can have new strategies applied (eg permaculture farming models) which will specifically target particular shortfalls or environmental detriments.
Melbourne’s public transport
It is important, though, not to be narrow-minded in our approach to resolving these problems. In many cases, a solution to one problem may hold the key or solution to another. Melbourne’s public transport system is an example of this. We all know the arguments for getting people to use public transport instead of cars. However, the solution of putting on additional buses and bus routes seems but a short term drop in the ocean. From a global point of view, we must review the system with a 50-100 year vision. We must think about what our population might be within that time frame and start building a system that will cope with these demands, and one that can be expanded/intensified as required. The solution, I believe, is to submerge the train network.
This will allow
- increased car parking at the stations
- elimination of level crossings and the public safety risk they pose
- increased integration with the bus and tram systems and the location of these junctions off suburban streets,
- reduction in the opportunities for fare evaders to enter station
- increased security for the passengers both on the trains and on the stations by increased ability for monitoring and, most importantly,
- the ability for the system to be expanded and intensified as demand requires, throughout Melbourne’s future.
While these points are justification enough on their own, from a global standpoint, this solution would also have a dramatic impact on another massive problem our city faces.
The ‘Green Wedges’
The ‘Green Wedges’ are areas of parkland and natural reserves which cut into our suburbs and provide wildlife corridors, parklands and recreational facilities for the city, as well as drainage, control of flooding and erosion, and they help reduce air pollution. These areas are currently under-sized for our city’s demands and have no real opportunity for expansion to the levels required by the future Melbourne.
The submergence of the train lines would allow these areas to be significantly increased by using the then redundant train line land to create long spine-like parkland areas bisecting the city. Naturally, the roles of these parks, including reducing pollution, would also be significantly increased. From a sustainability point of view, this option now becomes a more holistic solution for Melbourne, and has many benefits that reach well beyond the core issue of public transport.
Unfortunately, to date, our State government has only seemed interested in dismissing this idea on the basis of ‘We cant afford it’. Perhaps if our government was required to be as ‘sustainably minded’ as they want us to be, they might start asking the same question that I have been asking, which is: with all things considered, can we afford not to do it?
Whatever the outcome, the question of ‘sustainability’ is one of the biggest questions we will face in our lives, and one which we might not fully find the answer to, at least in our lifetimes. However, we must start somewhere, we must start now and most importantly, we must ALL start, because the responsibility rests with everyone, not just one or two.