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Putting green bricks in the wall

Rapid urbanisation is putting pressure on ecosystems and threatening biodiversity in regions in Australia and around the world. But urbanisation can be structured to help the environment and the people living in it.

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Research and evidence demonstrating the positive impacts of green space and biodiversity on people and urban space is significant - and continues to grow. 

"Urbanisation and biodiversity don’t have to be mutually exclusive propositions.” 

According to the World Health Organisation, green spaces in cities “as part of a wider environmental context have the potential to help address problems ‘upstream’ in a preventative way [and are] considered a more-efficient approach than simply dealing with the ‘downstream’ consequences of ill health.”

As well as physical health - including reduced rates of obesity – WHO has also shown links between green spaces and better mental health, along with improved social capital.

The health of the planet is also a growing factor, with Australia’s residential sector accounting for 57 per cent of Australia’s built environment emissions. Our home influences almost every aspect of our lives.

Although urbanisation is usually considered detrimental to biodiversity, it can also present many opportunities. Urbanisation and biodiversity don’t have to be mutually exclusive propositions.

Research shows Australian cities already support significant numbers of threatened plant and animal species. Indeed, Australian cities support comparatively more threatened species than non‐urban areas on a unit‐area basis, with 30 per cent of threatened species found to occur in cities.

It is clear cities which embrace their dependency on healthy ecosystems and make green space and promoting biodiversity a priority stand to gain significant benefits. These can be grouped loosely around three key areas:

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Healthy

Cities depend on healthy ecosystems to sustain long-term conditions for life, health and ongoing prosperity. Unfortunately, the current economic value and human benefits of ecosystems and biodiversity is usually not adequately accounted for in conventional economic accounting, much less in the built environment.

The built environment must be a part of delivering world-leading ecological and biodiversity outcomes that create ongoing value for people, places and the natural environment. As we look to the future, the Green Building Council of Australia believes bringing back nature to our cities should be a core value.

We need healthy, resilient, and positive places for people and the natural environment, and at the GBCA we hope to enable this discussion. Our discussion paper, Building with Nature: Prioritising ecology and biodiversity for better buildings and cities outlines the role of biodiversity and ecological value in the built environment. 

Value

Building with Nature describes the role of biodiversity and ecological value in the built environment, reviewing policy frameworks, recent research and related work, as well as international approaches and relevant practices.

The paper establishes guiding principles and proposes actions for the redesign of the policy in relation to planning and development within the building sector. 

Diversity

The paper includes five principles which aim to achieve the following outcomes in the built environment.

• Increase the amount of urban green spaces in cities.

Biodiverse urban green spaces provide for a community and nature connection and provide both environmental and human health benefits.

• Increase biodiversity to ensure the healthy functioning of ecosystems.

Biodiversity enables ecosystems to continue to contribute to energy efficient, sustainable, liveable and resilient cities.

• Connect landscapes and habitat to support biodiversity. Landscape is largely influenced by habitat mosaics that support biodiversity.

Connectivity coupled with measures to improve habitat quantity and quality, maximises ecosystem function and health and influences the provision of ecosystem services.

• Create links between natural and human-made landscapes to support biodiversity and ecological function.

Urban ecological function needs to be augmented by enhancing and connecting the mosaic of spaces and structures across the natural and human-made landscape.

• Promote responsible restoration of the environment not just locally, but for the surrounding landscape, to assist in restoring landscape degradation in Australia and overseas, from the use of materials and resources to develop and operate the environmental asset over time.

Over time, it is envisaged that long-term biodiversity planning will result in an increase of biodiversity and improve future decision making on ecological values for the local and regional area.

Jorge Chapa is Head of Market Transformation at GBCA

The Green Building Council of Australia is the nation’s authority on sustainable buildings, communities and cities. Its vision is to create healthy, resilient and positive places for people and the natural environment. Its purpose is to lead the sustainable transformation of Australia’s built environment.

This is a piece of an edited version of a speech at Green Building Day, an annual series of conferences hosted across the country for the Australian building industry.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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