Sustainable cities for wellbeing

Peter Head is a civil engineer who has written a visionary report into how to achieve sustainability in London by 2050.

He says the average ecological footprint needs to be reduced from 5.5 hectares per person to 1.5 hectares; 5.5 hectares being the current equivalent land area required to support the consumption of the average Londoner. Almost 60% of this footprint (environmental impact) is due to housing, food and transport.

Some of Head’s recommendations, all of which rely only on existing technology, are:

A 20% reduction in energy consumption from ‘behavioural change’. This requires consumers to eliminate wasteful consumption patterns such as use of standby power.

Switch to renewable sources of energy such as large-scale solar farms located in dry desert regions.

Cogeneration of power and heat such as that used by Coopers Brewery in South Australia, where the fuel provides electricity and ‘waste’ steam from the generating process is captured and used to provide heat or (as with Coopers) additional energy for refrigeration.

Create fuel from organic waste.

Reduce transport needs by intensive production of food in cities using innovations such as the Ecocity Farm developed on the North Coast by Hogan Gleeson and Andrew Bodlovich.

Zero emission electric and hydrogen fuelled transport vehicles and high speed intercity rail.

Mining of construction materials from cities and landfills. As we switch to sustainable forms of urban transport, millions of car bodies are available for recycling, saving the environmental cost of mining new materials.

Anaerobic digestion of waste, producing methane for fuel.

Provision of walking and cycling routes.

LED low energy consumption lighting.

The German city of Freiburg provides an exciting example of city design for sustainability. Passive solar design of buildings eliminates the need for energy intensive space heating even during cold winters. Car sharing clubs, cycle routes and efficient public transport make car ownership unnecessary.

Aerial pictures of Freiburg show rooftops covered in solar panels which together with cogeneration provide 50% of the town’s energy requirements. Affordable housing is provided by medium density design, owner building and private investment funds. Community spaces are deliberately designed and maintained to promote a safe and socially supportive environment.

In Freiburg social well-being, environmental preservation and long term economic viability are the relevant design criteria. Peter Head’s ideas and the Freiburg experiment show near sustainable cities can be designed within the constraints of our existing knowledge base, providing a stark contrast to the heavily polluted, resource wasteful and ecologically dead cities which are the norm throughout the world today.

Geoff Lamberton is a senior lecturer in ethics and sustainability at Southern Cross University.


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