By: Herbert Girardet
Published: September Edition
In Brief: An urbanizing world requires major policy initiatives to make urban resource use compatible with the world's ecosystems. Metropolitan Adelaide has adopted this agenda and is well on its way to becoming a pioneering regenerative city region. New policies by the government of South Australia on energy efficiency, renewable energy, sustainable transport, zero waste, organic waste composting, water efficiency, wastewater irrigation of crops, peri-urban agriculture, and reforestation have taken Adelaide to the forefront of eco-friendly urban development. Working as a thinker in residence in Adelaide in 2003, I proposed linking policies to reduce urban eco-footprints and resource use with the challenge of building a green economy. Former premier Mike Rann is now encouraging his successor, Jay Weatherill, to take further policy initiatives towards making South Australia into a model city region for the rest of the world.
"If we do not take care in where we place our cities, how we grow our cities and how we live in our cities, then we will fail in our mission to protect biodiversity." Dr. Robert McDonald, The Nature Conservancy
In 2003, South Australia premier Mike Rann invited me to be a “Thinker in Residence” in Adelaide, South Australia, to explore options for greening this city region of 1.2 million people. My working premise was that a vigorous move towards environmental sustainability could greatly stimulate South Australia’s economy. The rationale for this was quite simple: I argued that a city region that takes active measures to improve the efficient use of its resources should also be able to reduce its reliance on imported resources—it could re-localize parts of its energy and food economy and bring a very substantial part of it back home.
During a nine-week period, my colleagues and I held innumerable seminars and events in which a wide cross-section of people were invited to discuss ways in which metropolitan Adelaide could benefit from becoming a sustainable city region. At the end of my residency I published a report called “Creating a Sustainable Adelaide” which was subsequently scrutinized and largely approved by a South Australia government committee.1
Over the last decade, both the government of South Australia and the City of Adelaide have shown remarkable foresight. They have taken many new initiatives on renewable energy, energy efficiency, public transport, waste recycling, peri-urban agriculture, and tree planting. (Peri-urban refers to the hinterland of cities.) Adelaide is well on its way to becoming not just a sustainable city but also a regenerative city: it has been working to build a new green economy while also actively contributing to the well-being and restoration of ecosystems in South Australia. In November 2011, I returned to Adelaide to document what had happened there regarding sustainable development in the last nine years. What I found was that the city has achieved a tremendous amount, but the large annual carbon emissions (around 20 tonnes of carbon per person) are a systemic problem that has yet to be seriously tackled. A Future for Cities?
The rapidly urbanizing world we currently live in represents a fundamental, systemic change in the relationship between humans and nature. The move from living in villages and small towns to cities of millions of people is driven, to a significant extent, by the possibility of easy access to fossil fuel energy. The resource consumption patterns of urban populations define human environmental impact as never before and this has grave consequences for the health of the biosphere and the balance of gases in the atmosphere.
As cities become the predominant human habitat, urban development needs to undergo a profound paradigm shift. We must find ways for cities to minimize their systemic dependence on fossil fuels and their inefficient, unsustainable use of resources. The ecological, economic, and social externalities of our urban systems, in particular, need to be assessed and addressed in new ways. Rapid moves toward making our cities much more energy efficient and powering them with renewable energy are often cited as a crucially important issues, but we need to go beyond that: huge efforts must be made to enable cities to develop regenerative relationships with the world’s ecosystems.
The primary concept of relevance here is the metabolism of cities: cities need to move from using an inefficient linear metabolism to using a resource-efficient circular metabolism, modeling themselves on processes found in natural ecosystems. These differ from modern urban systems in that all wastes they produce are converted into nutrients for future growth. In contrast, current urban systems externalize their wastes in ways that undermine and damage the health and well-being of ecosystems locally, regionally, and globally.
The ecological footprints of cities cover much of the face of the Earth. We cannot allow a model of urbanization, which treats the unrestrained use of the world’s biological and mineral resources as non-negotiable and which uses nature as its waste dump, to proliferate across the planet. In the face of bio-diversity loss and climate change we need to be bold and imaginative. In my view the concept of sustainable urban development is no longer sufficient; only by assuring that cities continuously regenerate the ecosystems and soils from which they draw their resources can we assure a long-term future for an urbanizing world. We need to find ways to create regenerative cities.
We need not only local creativity and initiative, but also appropriate national policy frameworks to make useful things happen at the local level. Without national policy initiatives, driven by lively public debate, the necessary changes won’t happen fast enough, if at all. For example, feed-in tariffs for renewable energy in Denmark, Germany, and South Australia resulted from vigorous public demand; national policy was then implemented primarily at the local level.
The quest is now on for a new integrated model of urbanization that allows cities to be livable and economically viable, as well as environmentally regenerative. We want cities to shine brightly as places where much of human life is played out today, but also where a viable future for life on Earth is decided. A City with a Future
“Cities must be part of the solution if an urbanizing world is to grapple successfully with ecological challenges such as climate change. In concentrated urban areas, it is possible for environmental economies of scale to reduce the impact of human beings on the earth.”- Siemens European Green City Index
Adelaide is a city of parks, gardens, trees, and a remarkable architectural heritage. It is a place of prosperity, hospitality, cultural diversity, creativity, great food, and a high quality of life. Not surprisingly, it is widely recognized as one of the world’s most livable cities. This article examines whether it is also becoming a pioneering regenerative city.
Greater Adelaide is a medium-sized city region of 1.2 million people that has matured over a period of 160 years, growing by converting territories previously used by the aboriginal hunter-gatherer tribe, the Kaurna people, into farms and pastures. Today Adelaide still has a strong relationship to its rural regions, with the thriving horticultural, wine, and mining economy; manufacturing, services, and education are playing an important economic role, as well.
A decade ago, concern about uncertain water supplies and the threat of droughts started to stimulate a wider discussion about sustainable development. Since then, the tangible effects of climate change, and Greater Adelaide’s role in causing it, have been cited as proof that an overarching integrated urban systems design strategy, and a targeted program for implementing this, needs to be drawn up.
While in Adelaide in 2003, our goal was the greening of metropolitan Adelaide. Active moves towards environmental sustainability seemed to be an excellent basis for creating new businesses and jobs by internalizing resource flows. This approach anticipated many of the ideas recently developed under the label “Green New Deal” by think tanks such as the new economics foundation and the United Nations. These programs have since been widely adopted.
During a nine-week process, with many presentations and seminars, 32 strategies emerged. Of these, 31 were approved and integrated into government policy in 2004. (The 32nd, feed-in tariffs, was add in a 2008 speech by Premier Mike Rann.)
Mr. Rann explained the rationale of his government’s policies: “The logic of this is that the more we can preserve and improve the environment in which we live, the better positioned we are to build a stronger economy and healthier society. I also hope it will help change the attitudes of South Australians who don’t realize the full impact each of us have on the daily drain of our vital resources. These measures set a new pace for sustainable development, and set important new precedents for future decision makers.” In recent years, Adelaide has become a world leader in developing an environmentally sustainable—indeed, regenerative city. The following is a summary of what has been done. “Water Proofing” Adelaide
Adelaide is located near the mouth of the Murray River before it drains into the southeastern part of the Indian Ocean. The Murray is 3,000 kilometers long, yet it only carries a small fraction of the water of comparable-sized rivers in other parts of the world. The great annual variability of its flow makes it an unreliable source of water, and Greater Adelaide is water-challenged like few other urban regions across the world. After increasingly frequent droughts at the turn of the century, the South Australian government decided that it was time to develop new strategies for waterproofing Adelaide by focusing on the efficient use of water.
Water Proofing Adelaide of 2005, The Water for the Future, and The SA Water for Good strategies have been drawn up since 2003 to define appropriate actions for the management, conservation, and development of Adelaide’s water resources up to 2025. They encompass demand management, water savings, use of storm water and recycled water, balancing local development, and metropolitan water supply with ecologically sustainable use. The strategies enable residents of the region to play an active role in shaping the future of the Murray-Darling River Basin. Efficient water management can enable Greater Adelaide to become a net contributor to the regional water cycle through improved water use and diversified water supplies:
Water sensitive urban design will assure that 50 million fewer liters of water will be used per year by 2050; At least 60 million liters per year of storm water and 75 million of urban wastewater will be recycled for non-drinking purposes.
Further measures include the use of roof water collection systems on public buildings. To this effect, detailed information is being provided to assist councils, businesses and householders.
New approaches to water management are making Greater Adelaide into a highly water-efficient city. Wastewater recycling and reuse is a particularly innovative and important feature of this approach. South Australia now recycles 30 percent of its wastewater, compared to the national Australian average of about 17 percent. Particularly significant is the Glenelg Wastewater Reuse Project, which produces irrigation water for 750 hectares of Adelaide’s famous Parklands in the heart of the city.
But perhaps the most remarkable achievement towards becoming a regenerative city region is the pipeline that transports 30 million liters per year of treated and recycled wastewater from the Bolivar treatment plant to irrigate 20,000 hectares of fruits and vegetables in Virginia, north of Adelaide. The “Virginia Pipeline Scheme” supplies recycled wastewater from Greater Adelaide to 230 horticultural enterprises. Much of their produce ends up in Adelaide’s famous Central Market. The pipeline scheme is thought to be the largest of its kind in the world. Where most cities discharge their wastewater via sewage systems, Adelaide uses it to regenerate the fertility of its local farmland.
Published 8 months, 2 weeks ago under The Good Life