Liveable Neighbourhoods (2nd Edition)

Liveable Neighbourhoods (2nd Edition)

Landscape and Urban Planning 55 (2001) 67±72 Book reviews Liveable Neighbourhoods (2nd Edition) A Western Australian Government Sustainable Cities In...

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Landscape and Urban Planning 55 (2001) 67±72

Book reviews Liveable Neighbourhoods (2nd Edition) A Western Australian Government Sustainable Cities Initiative, Perth, Western Australia: Western Australian Planning Commission, 2000, 88 pp. Australia is a highly urbanised nation with more than 85 percent of its population located in ®ve state capitals and a few major towns. As these urban areas continue to grow in terms of population, land area, and resource requirements, so too does the realisation that many conventional urban development control policies are incompatible with the notion of urban and community sustainability. For this reason, a community design code referred to as Liveable Neighbourhoods is on trial in Western Australia as an optional alternative to conventional urban development control policy. The aim of Liveable Neighbourhoods is to satisfy a growing demand by both developers and consumers for an urban development process that will create site responsive and environmentally sustainable communities. In order to fully appreciate the value of Liveable Neighbourhoods, it is important that the reader is aware of the context in which this particular community design code has been set. For instance, many people consider the Australian suburb to signify much that is desirable about Australia Ð idyllic settings for a majority of families to raise their children. Yet, a federal government review in 1994 concluded that a large proportion of Australia's recent housing developments fail to meet many of the basic performance standards by which urban sustainability is judged Ð climate responsive house siting, connectivity and accessibility, minimum disturbance of the existing environment, as well as ef®ciency in the use of energy, land, and building materials (UDTF, 1994). Attempts at improving the sustainability of Australian housing have often involved the use of demonstration sites for `showcasing' technologies that can allow a household to become almost entirely self 0169-2046/01/$20.00 # 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

suf®cient in terms of electricity, water, and waste disposal. These `sustainable house' demonstrations can be found in many of Australia's major cities and are a useful tool for communicating the values of sustainability at the property or lot scale. However, at present, the up-front cost of either constructing a `sustainable house' or retro®tting an existing house to sustainable standards is prohibitively more expensive when compared to the cost of undertaking a similar exercise based on conventional standards. Therefore, while the `sustainable house' demonstration sites provide a useful communication tool, they are unlikely to signi®cantly alter current urban sustainability trends, and furthermore, will do little, if anything, to improve social and community sustainability. For this reason, the quest to improve urban sustainability has now turned to the community or `neighbourhood' scale, whereby the goal is for `triple bottom line' sustainability, through a balanced integration of the environmental, economic, and social aspects of sustainability. Triple bottom line sustainability is a nice ideal, but unfortunately there are few examples of this kind of sustainability at the community scale. One that does immediately spring to mind is Village Homes in Davis, California. Perhaps the closest approximation in Australia is the Sydney 2000 Olympic Village, which is reputedly the largest solar-powered residential development in the world. Liveable Neighbourhoods does not foster sustainability quite to these levels, but it certainly does share the common design objective, which is ``to create liveable neighbourhoods that reduce dependency on private vehicles and are more energy ef®cient'' (p. 4). Liveable Neighbourhoods was ®rst introduced to the Western Australian public in February 1998 for the purpose of testing and review. Following a 1-year trial period it was revised on the basis of public comment and a 2nd Edition was released in June 2000. The revised version is also subject to a 1-year public trial, after which the Western Australian Planning


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Commission will undertake a comprehensive review and consider how the ®nal policy may be implemented. As a book, the purpose of Liveable Neighbourhoods is to elaborate on the revised version of the community design code. The policy focus of the book means that it has not been written in a conventional book style, but rather a combination of concise discussion, diagrammatic illustrations, and dot-point objectives and recommendations. For this reason, I would not recommend Liveable Neighbourhoods to people wanting a light casual read, as it is focused more speci®cally towards those with a keen interest in urban planning policy and community sustainability. The book is structured into three distinct sections. The ®rst of these provides a brief introduction to the community design code and some background to the issue of community sustainability. The second section is dedicated to key issues associated with preparing a development application under Liveable Neighbourhoods. The majority of the book is contained within the third and ®nal section, which provides a well illustrated account of the key objectives and requirements of the six major design elements that comprise Liveable Neighbourhoods Ð community design, movement network, lot layout, public parkland, urban water management, and utilities. One of the main overarching goals of Liveable Neighbourhoods is to provide ``an alternative approach to design of neighbourhoods and towns that aims to achieve compact, well de®ned and more sustainable urban communities'' (p. 2). It is truly refreshing to see this strong emphasis on community design within a government planning body, the Western Australian Planning Commission. To their credit, they have adopted a broader and more integrated perspective on urban design than the traditional narrowly focused disciplinary approach of many similar government planning bodies in Australia. The level of research and integration that has been devoted to the production of Liveable Neighbourhoods is clearly evident in all design elements. For example, there is a strong focus on the design and layout of the street network, which obviously has an important role in providing energy conservation bene®ts through reduced vehicle usage and climateresponsive house siting. But, this design feature is then complemented by a requirement for street frontage development to enhance social meeting

opportunities and interactions, which in turn creates greater street activity, leading to increased natural surveillance and reduced crime. Another requirement is to enhance the amenity value of the streetscape through a reduction in road widths, as well as the positioning of garages in a location where they do not dominate the street frontage. These are just some of the design elements included in Liveable Neighbourhoods. A major priority of Liveable Neighbourhoods, and one that demands a highly integrated response is urban water management. There is a limited supply of fresh surface water in much of Western Australia and, thus, many urban centres rely on groundwater aquifers for their water supply. This combined with the relatively low relief and ¯at topography of many of Western Australia's urban centres dictates that stormwater management and pollution control are important issues. Given this, there is a strong emphasis within Liveable Neighbourhoods to use parklands as much as possible for urban stormwater retention and management, as well as groundwater aquifer recharge. However, explicit in this water sensitive design approach is the need to balance urban water management planning requirements with sensible urban structuring and connectivity. Much of the discussion so far has dealt with planning and design objectives, but it is also hoped that Liveable Neighbourhoods will provide the impetus for a shift towards a more performance-based approach to development and subdivision. To this end, Liveable Neighbourhoods contains an Appendix that describes the walkable catchment or `pedshed' technique for gauging how easy it is to move through an urban area. The technique involves calculating the actual area within 5-min walking distance from a neighbourhood or town centre and is expressed as a percentage of the theoretical area within a 5-min walking distance. High percentages indicate high `walkability' and provide an estimate of the likely energy ef®ciency of an urban area. A similar exercise can be undertaken for major transport stops using a 10-min walking distance. Liveable Neighbourhoods re¯ects the changing expectations and needs of current Australian homebuyers by providing for high-quality living, as well as recreational and working environments that are environmentally sustainable. However, the community design code does fall short in some areas. In particular, there is perhaps too little emphasis on the environ-

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mental context or ecological scale of sustainability. There is also little mention of the potential bene®t of ecosystem services such as the role of trees and vegetation in manipulating urban microclimates, providing natural puri®cation of urban storm water, and enhancing biodiversity conservation through habitat creation and corridor development. There is also little mention of sustainable construction techniques and the use of low embodied energy building materials. However, as an initial attempt at introducing sustainability concepts into urban areas, Liveable Neighbourhoods makes a fantastic contribution and the Western Australian Planning commission are to be congratulated. In fact, as a community design code, Liveable Neighbourhoods is probably pitched at exactly the right level, as it does not contain sustainability objectives that are too radical, and hence is less likely to marginalise the bulk of consumers and developers. Liveable Neighbourhoods is a brave and positive step forward in sustainable urban planning and design in Australia, and I look forward to watching its progress with eager anticipation. Liveable Neighbourhoods is available free-ofcharge in its entirety on the Internet. The address is Reference Urban Design Task Force (UDTF), 1994. Urban Design in Australia. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

G.B. Barnett CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems Ecological Solutions, GPO Box 284 Canberra ACT 2601, Australia E-mail address: [email protected] (G.B. Barnett) PII: S 0 1 6 9 - 2 0 4 6 ( 0 1 ) 0 0 1 1 5 - 3

Claiming Rural Identities Tialda Haartsen, Peter Groote, Paulus P.P. Huigen (Eds.), Assen, The Netherlands, Van Gorcum, 2000, 166 pp. Diversity, complexity, and change describe many rural areas of Western Europe. Understanding these


changing identities is key to devising effective and sustainable rural development programs. In remote areas, rural development policies and programs are moving away from equating ``rural'' with agriculture toward an emphasis on local self-help to stimulate economic development and reduce out-migration. Many formerly remote areas are experiencing an in¯ux of migration from retirees, second homeowners, and small business people. Rural areas closer to urban centers are dealing with the pressures of suburbanization. Claiming Rural Identities is a set of 13 essays linked by the themes of resisting a one-size-®ts-all approach to rural development and advocating quality development that strengthens the particular identities of rural areas. Most of the essays focus on case studies in The Netherlands and the United Kingdom, where central government policies have been slow to recognize both the declining importance of agriculture in the countryside and the shortage of rural housing, especially for low-income people. In separate essays, Dirk Strijker, Frank van Dam, and Keith Hoggart agree that more development should be accommodated in the countryside rather than strictly separating dense urban and open rural areas. How people perceive rural areas is changing as well. Marie Stenseke notes that in Sweden ``the role of the rural landscape is changing from essentially being a basis of production to becoming a product itself'' (p. 25). Writing about The Netherlands and Flanders, Frans Thissen and Rob Gastelaars identify retirement ``beautiful'' villages and ``new working villages'' as valid economic development alternatives to agriculture. Tourism is also a popular economic activity, but the choice is often between a standardized tourism and a museum style of conserved rural landscapes and buildings according to Janine Caalders et al. Claiming Rural Identities reads like a collection of journal articles, and one or more journal issues might have been devoted to the material presented in the book. Although, the book contains valuable insights on rural development, the reader must search carefully for them. North American ruralists will be surprised that the European geographers who contributed to the book have not yet heard of ``social capital,'' a term that has gained enormous popularity among American rural sociologists. Social capital is the network of personal