Three major floods, four reviews, but still lessons to learn

By Karen Hussey and Jamie Pittock

The last few years provided plenty of data to help us reform our approach to floods. With devastating flooding in Queensland and Victoria in 2011 and 2013, we should have learned a great deal about which approaches to flood mitigation work and which are less effective. A review of four recent Australian studies of mitigation and adaptation, and a comparison to overseas recommendations, shows we are lagging behind international practises in a number of important areas.

The Australian approach

We looked at four recent reviews of flood mitigation and adaptation in Australia: the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry, Brisbane City Council’s Flood Response Review, the Victorian Parliament’s Inquiry into Flood Mitigation Infrastructure in Victoria and the Victorian Floods Review.

These reviews varied greatly in scope, and all produced a comprehensive list of considered and much-needed recommendations to improve Australia’s resilience to floods in the future. But one surprising fact was none of them dealt with future climate impacts. Some didn’t even mention climate change. Government reviews are expensive, but the cost is justified if they identify reforms which improve society. By not taking into account the risk of future climate change and its exacerbation of flood risk, governments are missing an opportunity to include those risks in the current reform agenda.

Australian governments take the attitude that we can re-make flooded communities exactly as they were before. As soon as a disaster is declared, federal funds are made available to rebuild to “pre-disaster” conditions. There is little or no expectation that infrastructure should be made more resistant to flood damage. In the United States 15% of federal funding is allocated for “betterment”; here there are virtually no resources to plan for, relocate or strengthen flood prone infrastructure to make it more resilient.

The Australian approach to “flood proofing” communities is to build levees. Levees essentially take the same body of water and squeeze it into a smaller space. They don’t encourage evaporation, and they push water to higher levels. They work well in small floods, and under those conditions are very effective at protecting communities. But in recent years we’ve seen bigger floods, and these are likely to get worse. In bigger floods the levees are often overcome, and the potential for serious damage becomes much greater than it would be without them.

“Non-structural” or “ecosystem” approaches to flood mitigation work much better than structural measures like levees. But in Australia, we rarely consider these types of measures.

International ideas

Internationally, the story is very different.

In our research we also looked at flood reforms in the USA, China and the Netherlands. In all three, climate change was a driving force behind their significant recommended reforms.

All of these countries recognise they have reached the limit of what levee banks can usefully achieve. Instead, they have instigated a range of reforms built around the concept of ecosystem management.

The first of these is “making room for the river”. The river channel is widened or deepened to allow more water to flow through while remaining within its bounds. Flooding of surrounding areas is reduced.

Since its devastating floods in the 1990s, China has been restoring flood plains, buying land around river channels and relocating people to higher ground. This has happened most famously as part of the Three Gorges Dam development, which attracted a lot of negative media coverage. But we’re finding that years after relocation, people have shifted to crops that are less prone to flood damage which, combined with being on higher ground, means they’re hit by floods less often, and they’re better prepared to deal with those that come along.

All three countries have changed the way they manage their floodways. Where cities and towns are vulnerable, the government diverts the river into agricultural land around the town. In a flood season the city is protected and agricultural areas are flooded instead. The farming communities are paid by the government to forgo income during floods, but still use the land at all other times. Australian research has shown that for graziers, more frequent flooding can actually improve farm incomes.

What could Australia learn?

Australia has dabbled in ecosystem approaches and relocation, but often in an ad-hoc way.

Critics of ecosystem approaches point out that it’s all very well to deepen a river upstream, but if you don’t deal with the towns downstream, flooding there will be much worse. For ecosystem approaches to work, management and planning have to be undertaken on a much larger scale.

In the southern Murray-Darling Basin, the government proposes removing constraints such as bridges and dams to allow for bigger peak environmental flows (that is, floods). This work is very promising, but what about the rest of the Murray-Darling Basin and, indeed, the rest of the country?

Currently, we don’t have coordination and integration across jurisdictions within and between states. But rivers don’t respect administrative boundaries: when you’re developing ecosystem approaches, you have to use the natural environment as your point of reference.

There have also been a few examples of relocating communities: Grantham and Gundagai being the most notable. This relocation is expensive, but as floods become bigger and more frequent it’s something Australia needs to do more often. The financial and social costs of retaining and rebuilding flood prone towns over and over and over again will soon add up. When the taxpayer is picking up the bill, at some point you must decide whether rebuilding is an economically viable solution, or whether in some situations relocation is the more sensible approach.

And of course we must take account of future climate risks. While none of these reviews seriously studied those risks, change is happening elsewhere. The Australian Rainfall and Runoff Guide is one of the most important national reference guides, and is used by planners and builders to help them allow for floods. It’s currently under review, and future versions will take account of the effects of both natural and anthropogenic climate change. This attitude should spread to all flood reform.

Karen Hussey receives funding from the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility.

Jamie Pittock receives funding from the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
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Monumentalism versus Organic growth in Christchurch, is there a solution to allow both?

Devastation in Christchurch has resulted in the central business district being the hole in an urban donut.  To fix the centre we have on the one hand the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) who have devised an anchor-project plan to re-energise and provide confidence to developers for the central city.

On the other, there is an agile and creative urban regeneration think tank called Studio Christchurch who are a ‘not for profit’ academic based organisation whose outcomes are about shaping the urban form by involving the arts, creative architects, engineers and the community to regenerate and stimulate a vibrant Christchurch.  CERA’s anchor projects are key civic, recreational and community focused developments with lots of public realm focus on the natural asset of the river Avon. Studio Christchurch are taking a bird’s eye view of how the city is reacting, emerging trends in energy and power, tourism, environmental effects, migration of offices, the supporting land uses to office developments, residential shifts and changes in land prices based on accessibility, infrastructure and financial opportunities.

Although complimentary there appears to be two methods to assisting the recovery of Christchurch which provides an interesting study about dictating and planning the urban landscape and letting it grow organically. Time will tell if we can build around the CERA anchor projects land use plan and facilitate good transport links whilst allowing developers to surround and infill between the anchor projects.  There does appear on the surface to be tension between a long term land use plan and what is needed over time to assist in rebuild and recover. In this presentation, Shaun will explore these initiatives further and discuss how dynamic zoning, that’s reflective and sensitive of time, may be a solution.

Shaun Hardcatle, Auercon, Christchurch NZ will speak at… the 6th Making Cities Liveable Conference, in conjunction with the Sustainable Transformation Conference, is being held from the 17th – 19th June 2013 at Novotel Melbourne St Kilda. The collaboration brings together National, State and Regional delegates to explore, exchange ideas and network.

Two Conferences! Three Days! 90 Presenters! One Location in 2013

www.healthycities.com.au

Made in Australia: The Future of Australian Cities

https://i0.wp.com/www.audrc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/julian.jpgDr Julian Bolleter
Assistant Professor, Australian Urban Design Research Centre

WA, Australia

Abstract: The Australian Bureau of Statistics predicts that Australia’s current population of 22.3 million could grow to 62.2 million by 2101. Of course, many things could change between now and then but for the purposes of planning we think it is prudent to take this figure seriously. So what does this big number mean? It means we would need to house an extra 40 million Australians over the course of the next 87 years. This means building the equivalent of an extra 10 Sydneys – one every 9 years! There is currently no national plan for this growth. Even following consultation of Australia’s entire current city planning frameworks, we found that a sum total of only 5.5 million people are accounted for. This research aimed to address the resettling of the 34.5 million 21st century Australians which are simply missing from the collective intelligence of the nation’s planning. In order to address this lacuna, we initially consulted the ABS forecasts for the mid-century populations of Australia’s major cities. From the total 2100 projection of 62.2 million we subtracted these numbers and were left with 23,061,839 people. We then conducted an analysis of the national landscape to arrive at an answer as to where these people might live so that Australia remains ecologically resilient, socially amenable and economically productive. We don’t claim to have the right answer to the question of Australia’s settlement patterns but we do offer an ideologically neutral exploration of the matter – we offer an environmentally precautious approach but one that is nonetheless optimistic about the prospect of designing and constructing better cities as the century unfolds. The material presented reflects over two years of research work and is to be published in a major new book in 2013.

Biography: Dr Julian Bolleter is an Assistant Professor at the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC) at the University of Western Australia. His role at the AUDRC includes teaching a master’s program in urban design and conducting urban design research and design projects. Since graduating in 1998 Dr Bolleter has practiced as a landscape architect in Australia and the Middle East on a diverse range of projects. In 2009 he completed a PhD that critically surveyed landscape architectural practice in Dubai and advanced scenarios for Dubai’s proposed public open space system. Julian and his colleague Richard Weller have recently completed a book entitled ‘Made in Australia: The Future of Australian Cities.’ The book scopes the urban implications of Australia’s population reaching 62.2 million by 2101.

Dr Julian Bolleter is an Assistant Professor at the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC) at the University of Western Australia will speak at…

Two Conferences! Three Days! One Location in 2013

6th Making Cities Liveable Conference, in conjunction with the Sustainable Transformation Conference, is being held from the 17th – 19th June 2013 at Novotel Melbourne St Kilda. The collaboration brings together National, State and Regional delegates to explore, exchange ideas and network.

The joint conference will be a platform for Government, Industry sector professionals and Academics to discuss causes, effects and solutions. Delegates will have access to an extensive range of topics with over 90 presentations across three days including Keynotes, Concurrent Sessions, Case Studies and Posters. www.healthycities.com.au

Planning Positively for an Ageing Population in New Zealand

There are constant references in academic literature to the aging of New Zealand’s population and this is sometimes represented in the popular press as the arrival of a silver tsunami. However, awareness of the issue has not as yet led to similar informed debate on how the issues of this aging population will be addressed and how urban areas may need to be altered to remain liveable.

In particular the planning community seems to have taken a limited interest in the needs of an aging population despite an upsurge in interest in and use of urban design to create more liveable and healthy living environments. This paper will look at what change is needed in the New Zealand planning system to both acknowledge the aging of the population and to plan positively and flexibly for it. It will look at how urban areas can be better designed to both meet the needs of an aging population, particularly to allow them to age in place while still providing good quality liveable environments for the balance of the population.

A/Prof Caroline Miller, Associate Professor, Massey University, Palmerston North, NZ will speak at…

Two Conferences! Three Days! One Location in 2013

6th Making Cities Liveable Conference, in conjunction with the Sustainable Transformation Conference, is being held from the 17th – 19th June 2013 at Novotel Melbourne St Kilda. The collaboration brings together National, State and Regional delegates to explore, exchange ideas and network.

The joint conference will be a platform for Government, Industry sector professionals and Academics to discuss causes, effects and solutions. Delegates will have access to an extensive range of topics with over 90 presentations across three days including Keynotes, Concurrent Sessions, Case Studies and Posters. www.healthycities.com.au

Walk it out: urban design plays key role in creating healthy cities

Professor Billie Giles-Corti

Residents of new housing developments increased their exercise and their wellbeing when they had more access to shops and parks, a new University of Melbourne study reveals.

The ten year study found that the overall health of residents of new housing developments in Western Australia, improved when their daily walking increased as a result of more access to parks, public transport, shops and services.

Lead researcher Professor Billie Giles-Corti, Director of the McCaughey VicHealth Centre for Community Wellbeing at the University of Melbourne said the study provided long-term evidence that residents’ walking increased with greater availabi

“The study demonstrates the potential of local infrastructure to support health-enhancing behaviours,” she said.lity and diversity of local transport and recreational destinations.

The study examined the impact of urban planning on active living in metropolitan Perth, Western Australia. More than 1,400 participants building homes in new housing developments were surveyed before relocation to new homes and approximately 12 months later.

The study found that for every local shop, residents’ physical activity increased an extra 5-6 minutes of walking per week. For every recreational facility available such as a park or beach, residents’ physical activity increased by an extra 21 minutes per week.

“This means that where there is an environment that supports walking with access to multiple facilities residents walked much more,” Professor Giles-Corti said.

These findings could inform public health and urban design policy demonstrating that people respond to an environment that is supportive of physical activity.

“Given that being physically active reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes, which are both huge costs to the health system, these results could have huge implications for government policy such as the Victorian State Government’s new Metropolitan Planning Strategy,” Professor Giles-Corti said.

The study was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

Two Conferences! Three Days! One Location in 2013

6th Making Cities Liveable Conference, in conjunction with the Sustainable Transformation Conference, is being held from the 17th – 19th June 2013 at Novotel Melbourne St Kilda. The collaboration brings together National, State and Regional delegates to explore, exchange ideas and network.

The joint conference will be a platform for Government, Industry sector professionals and Academics to discuss causes, effects and solutions. Delegates will have access to an extensive range of topics with over 90 presentations across three days including Keynotes, Concurrent Sessions, Case Studies and Posters. www.healthycities.com.au

Is there room for nature in our cities?

By Peter Fisher, RMIT University and D Trainham, RMIT University

Welcome to the CBD. Take a look at all the glass masonry and asphalt. The streets are canyons. Apart from a tree in the footpath, or a Peregrine Falcon way overhead, there’s little nature to be seen.

Nature is absent in these landscapes, or more correctly “hardscapes”. This runs counter to the trend to put urban people, and particularly children, back in touch with the natural world. Grass, flowers, birds, butterflies and worms are increasingly rare in a world of denser development. There’s no sense of season apart from flowers in street-side stalls.

As much as five-sixths of our CBDs are buildings: asphalt dotted with street trees. The ratio of biomass to hard mass in such environments is minute.

Trees help cool environments, while buildings increase heat absorption and reflection. This suggests cities are very poorly adapted to a projected 4-6°C global warming – a world where it may prove impractical to ever again grow large trees especially in hot pavements.

Greening the city

Cities like Kobe are returning nature to the streets. Peter Fisher

Research is revealing that, although we may have left the savanna, it’s still a part of our wiring. Hospital patients who have a view of some sort of nature recover faster and need less medication.

A recent article in Nature, “City living marks the brain”, points to a far higher incidence of mental illness in urban versus rural areas. Green exercise can act as a therapeutic intervention, which is doubly important in the hyper-dense environment envisaged by outspoken developers.

However it’s not like that everywhere. In places such as Vancouver, setbacks are mandatory for high rises and view corridors have been preserved.

Elsewhere, European and American cities have undertaken benchmark projects to soften the impact of roads. Hamburg and Madrid have roofed their inner autobahn/highway to create parklands. Portland tore down its waterfront freeway to do the same, as Seattle is currently doing.

Other North American cities inspired by Michael Hough’s evocative book “Cities and Natural Processes” have returned rivers, ravines, swamps, and parkland to their natural state. Then there’s New York City’s High-Line, a greenway for walking, running or simply sitting. San Francisco has its “parklets” and sidewalk gardens.

A Melbourne model?

In Melbourne virtually no public greenspace has been created within the grid proper since City Square in 1980, and even it has succumbed to the granite treatment and been chopped in half. Hardscape is on the rise with planning applications for more than 50,000 new apartments in 200 developments in and around the CBD.

Few have recognised the “green-shift” now underway globally and recently embraced by Perth.

New York’s High Line, a place for city-dwellers to escape to a little nature. Flickr/Ed Yourdon

It’s helpful for urban designers seeking a context to immerse themselves in the pre-white settlement setting. Proto-Melbourne would be unrecognisable: wattle in bloom, kangaroo grass, kookaburras and kingfishers along the river. Above where Queens Bridge now stands were The Falls, where clear freshwater cascaded; and to the west, amid a swamp with masses of water birds, lay a shimmering blue lagoon ringed by pigface.

Each city has its own tale of what followed. Take a look at these two images of The Falls – this one at foundation and this one in 1857 – that’s an awful lot of trashing in just 22 years.

Such squandered landscapes defy replication at their original scale but we can replicate them on a small scale. It is a matter of rethinking the user experience. Roof gardens (including food crops), green walls, plant-draped atriums, water features and borrowed scenery are ways of using interiors, walls, and ceilings.

Buildings have long been in the front line of fighting climate change through “green building” rating systems. It’s time they were enlisted to reforge our linkages with a landscape that people have all but forgotten.

The opportunities are highlighted by a design for a three sided hospital in Spain – one side is a green wall; another is solar panels in the colors of a butterfly about to go regionally extinct; and the third is a vertical farm that will feed people in the hospital. It is one example of the ways our cities can become truly green.

This article written in collaboration with Dr. Peter Fisher was done as an unpaid work and is not part of any sponsored research project. Some of the ideas expressed in this article may appear in a recently published article: Naturizing outside-in: Reconnecting buildings with the natural world through a design innovation metric in the January 2013 issue of the Singapore based journal, CITYGREEN.

Peter Fisher does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

ABS population figures: we’re growing, especially in WA

12 February 2013 — Western Australian continues to record the fastest population growth rate of all states and territories, 3.3 per cent, according to the latest demographic figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, that will have an impact on planning for a more sustainable development industry.

Tasmania recorded the slowest growth rate at 0.2 per cent.

The figures, which cover from 30 June 2011 to 30 June 2012 and were released in December last year, found that Australia’s population increased to 22,683,600, up by 359,600 during the 12-month period.

This places the annual population growth rate for the year ended 30 June 2012 at 1.6 per cent, up from a low of 1.1 per cent for the year ending March 2011.

The Bureau says the growth of Australia’s population has two components: natural increase (the number of births minus the number of deaths) and net overseas migration.

To read the full story, click here