Inclusive, safe and resilient cities

By - , Build 168

Continuing the series on the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) and their importance to the construction industry, this Build looks at SDG 11 – Making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

THE UNDERLYING guiding principles of the SDGs are to secure humankind’s resources and opportunities in the long term and to always consider tomorrow in today’s decisions.

Holistic approach necessary

There are no simple answers to the complex challenges of our time, such as rapid urbanisation and growth, climate change and more. What is clear is that sustainability demands a holistic approach and requires thinking backwards from the endpoint – this encourages real social, economic, political and environmental progress.

The challenge of making our cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable means tackling our physical built environment and addressing our relationship to it. For example, through changing land use, we can encourage open spaces that allow community members to interact and socialise, breaking down barriers of social isolation, loneliness and fear.

Recent thinking in the architecture and design community has focused on regenerative design. Developed by Raymond Cole, this approach to building design and community planning supports the co-production of human and natural systems within a dynamic relationship. It can be a catalyst for positive change within the place, community or city where the project is situated.

A key focus of regenerative design projects is the enhancing of life in all its manifestations, such as human and ecological, through enduring environmental citizenship.

A New Zealand urban solution

In recent years, regenerative design projects have become more common. One New Zealand project that embodies the principles of SDG 11 is the Earthsong eco-neighbourhood co-housing project in Ranui, West Auckland. This seeks to exemplify sustainability in the urban context.It aims to create a balance between nature, especially existing landforms, the climate and the social aspects of living in a community.

The dwellings are north facing and use passive solar design. Construction materials were selected to reduce environmental impacts, especially embodied carbon. Economic burdens were also reduced with solar water heating and rainwater collection for reuse.

Central to the sustainability of the Earthsong eco-neighbourhood are social aspects, such as utilising cohousing as a central organising concept for the community. Cohousing is a form of collaborative housing whereby residents participate in the design and operation of their community and neighbourhoods.

While it may be more familiar in Nordic countries, increasingly, a number of cohousing developments have sprung up in response to the housing crisis in New Zealand (see pages 55–56 for more on cohousing).

Earthsong’s core principles

The Earthsong eco-neighbourhood has outlined some core principles around what cohousing means in their community:

  • It has a participatory process – members organise and participate in the planning and design process for the housing development and are responsible as a group for all the final decisions either with or without a separate developer.
  • It utilises intentional neighbourhood design – the physical design encourages a sense of community while safeguarding privacy and increases the possibilities for spontaneous social contact.
  • Facilities are managed in common – each household has a private residence but also access to common areas and facilities, including a large common house, designed for daily use to supplement private living areas.
  • Residents manage the development – they make decisions of common concern at community meetings using inclusive, participatory decision making.
  • There is non-hierarchical structure and decision making – while there are leadership roles, responsibility for decisions is shared by the adults and no one person dominates the decisions or the community process.
  • There are separate income sources – households are responsible for their own income and finances and do not rely on the community for their primary income.

Inspire and educate the public

Earthsong eco-neighbourhood plays an important role in inspiring and educating the public that sustainable communities can be made here and now.

Projects that create living models of a sustainable community are important if we are to transition to a low-carbon built environment and adapt to climate change.

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