Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sustainability on the Urban Scale: ‘Green Urbanism’

by Steffen Lehmann

Among the most significant environmental challenges of our time are global climate change, excessive fossil fuel dependency and the growing demand for energy – all likely to be major challenges of the 21st century and one of the greatest problems facing humanity. In this context, urban design and the fundamental principles of how to shape our cities has barely featured in the greenhouse debate. Much of the debate in related areas has so far circled around ideas about active technology for ‘eco-buildings’. This is surprising, since almost half the energy consumed is used in cities and urban built-up areas, and given that avoiding mistakes in urban design at early stages could genuinely lead to more sustainable cities and less greenhouse gas emission. This paper reflects upon practical strategies focused on increasing sustainability beyond and within the scope of individual buildings. The paper deals with cross-cutting issues in architecture and urban design and addresses the question of how we can best cohesively integrate all aspects of energy systems, transport systems, waste and water management, passive and active strategies, climatisation and so on, into contemporary urban design and improved environmental performance of our cities. It provides a context for a general debate about the regeneration of the city centre, and discusses how urbanism is affected (and can be expected to be even more affected in future) by the paradigms of ecology. The significance of the research is found in the pressing need for an integration of sustainability principles in the urban design process of cities in South East Asia and the general need for a sustainable city development. It will be of particular relevance to the rapid urban growth of developing cities that have, in the past, frequently been poorly managed. Research in sustainable urban design recommends increased harnessing of the energies manifested in the existing fabrics – for instance, through the adaptive re-use of former industrial (brownfield) sites and the upgrade and extension of existing building structures. It is less environmentally damaging to stimulate growth within the established city centre rather than sprawling into new, formerly unbuilt areas. Two recent examples for the application of such urban design principles are the author’s proposals for the Australian city of Newcastle: the ‘City Campus’ and ‘Port City’ projects.

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