Start small and build up to ‘make our cities more sustainable’

Building resilient urban settlements in fire-vulnerable areas could set a model for how larger cities can adapt to rapid climate change, a new research paper suggests.

These developments would include:

  • Establishing more sustainable coastal centres with distributed solar power and water; and
  • Building solar or eco-villages on the peri-urban rural fringe using community-scaled technology with solar, batteries and solar recharge hubs for electro-mobility as well as water-sensitive urban design and local citizen utilities.

The research paper, authored by the University of Canberra’s Barbara Norman, Curtin University’s University’s Peter Newman, and the Australian National University’s Will Steffen, also suggests that the management of bushland and forested areas of these smaller urban settlements be based on a patchwork of fire-regimes, including indigenous burning practices.

The paper, Apocalypse Now: Australian Bushfires and the Future of Urban Settlements says: “The impact of climate change is significantly increasing the challenge of managing urban growth.

“While the focus must remain on reducing emissions, much more consideration needs to be given to working with affected communities experiencing the negative impacts of climate change”.

The authors reference the 2013 South East Coastal Adaptation (SECA) report and its seven principles for a climate-adapted coastal town in 2030 for its “prescience” in predicting the 2019-20 bushfires and for its “innovative interdisciplinary approach ”.

“The SECA study highlighted that local communities need the support of higher levels of government to ‘enable’ local actions on both mitigation and adaption as coastal regions are at the forefront of climate risks (inundation, storms, fire exacerbated by drought conditions).”

On re-thinking peri-urban/rural towns, the report says: “the need for resilience to be built into all town planning and the consciousness of rural communities post the apocalypse makes it easier to replace the scattered approach to housing in vulnerable areas around the big cities and along coastlines, rivers and into forests.”