Lessons learned from Europe (Part Two)

Apologies Part 2 has been somewhat delayed; unsurprisingly I came back to quite a backlog that I am still trying to get through!

As I said in Part 1, density is an essential ingredient in creating sustainable and liveable cities, but this comes with an important qualifier: the fifth lesson of the study tour is that density needs to be accompanied by a major provision of high quality green spaces. By this I mean around 30% of the total land size should be devoted to public open space, not the 10% that is standard in most new developments. While this is a lot of green space, it is important to keep these green spaces diverse. Some large open playing fields but also, and more often, intimate spaces like different rooms to a house. Another related key lesson was to plant trees in parks and streets as early as possible as mature trees really make a new development take root – excuse the pun.

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The sixth lesson, demonstrated again and again across Europe’s most liveable cities, was that new developments should contain a range of diverse and affordable housing that brings together a community of differing ages and incomes – and ideally this should be within one building. A standout example of this for me was in Vauban, Freidburg in which one floor of a residential development – one that looked like many of the others – was set aside for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The development was explicitly designed so that people could age in place, surrounded by a familiar environment.

Waste and rubbish matter. The seventh lesson is that waste removal and storage needs to be well planned and designed into new developments. Waste is often an afterthought, hidden from the view of most, but its management is an important factor in determining the sustainable performance of our cities. All across Europe new neighbourhoods are getting close to zero waste to landfill through smart recycling and the turning of food waste into energy sources such as biogas, but to succeed these initiatives have to be integrated from the kitchen sink to the recycling plant.

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Underlying these important lessons, and vital for making any of the above a reality, is the eighth and final key lesson – leadership and collaboration. This includes a stronger role for all levels of government including land assembly, master-planning and up-front provision of transport and other sustainable infrastructure. Collaboration with universities and practitioners in researching and trialling new ideas and capturing evidence and applying it is essential. For new ideas to be tried the role of government in financing is also important – the private sector can partner but it needs to be governments that lead to innovate, integrate and deliver the more liveable and sustainable cities we need.

Overall, I came away from the study tour with a realisation that liveable and sustainable cities are possible and potentially just around the corner – even if they feel a long way from what happens in Perth today. Perth is struggling not just because the overwhelming majority of new developments are car dependent, single houses on the urban fringe – which are not conducive to sustainability, liveability or community – but also because this approach is not offering the diversity of housing choices that people in Perth need. We should be able to choose an affordable home within the existing metro area that suits our needs or phase of our lives. Having this choice will inevitably lead to denser, greener, more energy efficient and better linked communities. As the planner behind Freiburg’s extraordinary successes, Prof Wulf Daseking, says “…this model – the decentralized integrated, socially stable city, closely bound to a freely available public transport system – represents the future of the 21st century European city.” I think we have a lot to learn.

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About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

2 Responses to Lessons learned from Europe (Part Two)

  1. Sam Donovan says:

    I went to freiburg last year, loved it, loved Berlin too. Off to Helsinki next year, they’re doing great things too. Keep up the learning! 😀👍

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