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how to renew our suburbs for more liveable, net-zero cities

by Peter Newman, Giles Thomson, Peter Newton and Stephen Glackin,

Our aging cities urgently need renewal. Many established residential areas, the ‘grey fields’, are becoming obsolete physically, technologically and ecologically. They are mostly located in low-density car-dependent suburbs, developed in the mid to late 20th century.

Compared to the suburbs, these middle cities are rich in services, amenities and jobs. But the greyfields also represent economically obsolete, failing or undercapitalized real estate assets. Their location has made them the focus of suburban backyard development.

Unfortunately, the current approach generally cuts down all trees and increases car traffic as the population increases. A new kind of urban renewal is needed at the scale of land, rather than by lot, to transform the gray fields into more livable and sustainable suburbs. It calls for a concerted approach from federal, state and local governments.

How do we do this?

Our free new eBook, Making the gray fields greener, explains how to do this. It is based on ten years of research that has led to a new model of urban development.

This approach integrates two goals of urban research:

  • ending the dependence on cars caused by a decoupling between land use and transport
  • accelerating the supply of more sustainable, medium-sized, infill housing to replace the current dysfunctional model of urban regeneration.

Greening gray fields can help our cities make the transition to net zero emissions.

Why do we need to regenerate these areas?

We need to reduce the unsustainable urban and environmental footprints of “suburban” cities. Neighborhoods must become more resilient, sustainable, liveable and fair for their residents.

Urban renewal should also enable the COVID-driven restructuring of the work-living relationship for city residents. This means moving urban places to become more self-sufficient as ’20-minute neighborhoods’. Their residents will have access to most of the services they need via low-emission cycling and walking, as well as public transport.

Current efforts to increase housing density and limit sprawl in most Australian cities tend to focus on general zoning in selected growth zones. The resulting backyard infill includes a few small houses, and that’s all that’s allowed on each block. The density is only increasing marginally, leaving too few housing options for residents who want to be close to city amenities and opportunities.

Partial redevelopment of infill often deteriorates the quality of our suburbs. The loss of trees and the increase in hard surfaces exacerbate urban heat island effects and flood risk. And a lack of convenient transportation options for the extra residents amplifies car dependence.

We need more strategic models of suburban regeneration.

Greening the gray fields: how to renew our suburbs for more livable, net-zero cities?

WGV in Fremantle is a model project for the greening of the greyfields on a district scale. Author provided

Greyfield regeneration compared to conventional approaches

Why do this on a neighborhood scale?

Urban renewal is best tackled at the scale of the site. They are the building blocks of cities: greenfield sites are being further developed and old brownfield industrial sites are being redeveloped on this scale.

Area-scale design-driven regeneration can maximize coordination of aspects of urban life neglected by piecemeal redevelopment. Think local health and education services, small shops, social housing, walkable open space, public transport and even regenerated biodiversity.

Model neighborhoods such as WGV, in a Fremantle suburb, have very successfully demonstrated how regeneration can lead to medium-density, high-quality housing and net-zero results. However, this development was on an old school site, so there was no need to combine individual blocks into a neighborhood scale site. There were also no residents to be involved, although WGV became very popular because of its attractive architecture and green spaces with trees.

What are the main elements of this model?

The Greyfield district regeneration has two sub-models: place-activated and transit-activated. A place-activated neighborhood can shorten travel distances for residents by providing services and amenities, but does not in itself increase public transport. For transit-enabled areas, good public transportation increases land value, making these regenerated gray fields even more attractive.

An overview of trackless tram projects in Australia.

Mid-tier transit like trackless trams is an ideal way to facilitate neighborhood developments along main road corridors. Local authorities recognize this around Australia.

Greyfield regeneration can start with a neighborhood greening strategy. Redlining was an American planning tool to exclude people of color from a neighborhood. Greenlining is the opposite: it involves the entire community in making their neighborhood greener.

This strategic process would identify neighborhoods in need of next-generation infrastructure. These kinds of projects require a vision and plan on a neighborhood scale.

Government and municipal services can do this work. It would include:

  • physical infrastructure – energy, water, waste and transport
  • social infrastructure—health and education
  • green infrastructure – the nature-based services we get from planting and preserving trees and enabling open space and landscaped streets.

The City of Maroondah in Victoria gave an early demonstration of how this could be done. It produced a set of scripts to show how other municipalities, developers and land owners can follow the process.

Greening the gray fields will deliver the many benefits associated with more sustainable and liveable communities. However, these results depend on a more comprehensive, design-driven, integrated planning of land use and transport.

Property owners, municipalities, developers and financiers will have to work together much more closely and effectively than with the business-as-usual approach of fragmented, small-scale implementation, which fails miserably. To change this approach, new laws and regulations are needed.

Better Cities 2.0?

Area-oriented projects provide a model for: net zero development of our cities.

Greyfield regeneration is an increasingly pervasive and pressing challenge for our cities. It calls on all levels of government to work towards a strategic response.

We propose a Better Cities 2.0 program, led by the federal government, to establish gray area regeneration authorities in major cities and build partnerships with all key urban stakeholders. It would help us on our way to making the gray fields greener.

Attitudes to medium-density living are changing in Sydney and Melbourne

Provided by The Conversation

This article was republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.The conversation

Quote: Greening the greyfields: How to renew our suburbs for more livable cities without zero (2022, July 29) retrieved July 29, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-07-greening-greyfields-renew-suburbs – livable.html

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