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Balancing the Scales of Infrastructure and Ecology


Wolter Consulting Group have been proud supporters of UQ OOPS (Organisation of Planning Students) for many years. In the UQ OOPS latest Connect Newsletter, David Uhlmann, WCG's Director of Environment and Sustainability shares his thoughts on planning, designing and delivering built environments that can better cope with extreme natural events.

The climate is changing. Climate Scientists are predicting that the occurrence of extreme weather events will increase - both in frequency and severity.

As Urban Designers it is our responsibility to plan, design and deliver built environments that minimise the risk to life or risk of property damage from the impact of these events.

Over the last few years we have seen the adverse outcomes that result from poor planning and design - outcomes which result in damage caused by bushfires, floods, cyclones and severe storms. Much of this damage can be attributed to past decisions on siting and design of our buildings and infrastructure that did not adequately consider climate risk.

At the scale of individual buildings, while we are increasing building standards for more robust and storm resilient homes, we are still building new residential communities in flood plains, still building houses and infrastructure in bushfire prone areas, and still building homes without consideration of storm damage risk.

Homeowners living in minimum standard project homes are too often left carrying the responsibility for retrofitting their homes to be more climate responsive and resilient - often without insurance cover as their area is considered “uninsurable” due to high risk factors.

At the precinct and city scale we need to place a greater emphasis on climate responsive planning - in particular by respecting and planning for the natural processes and topography of the land, and how it responds to extreme events. This is particularly the case for planning new developments near flood prone rivers or bushfire prone vegetated hills. There are some areas that should never have been developed - they should have been left as environmental management zones to help the city better cope with the extreme events.

Designing-in maintainability into our buildings and public spaces is also fundamental. Just as regularly cleaning out your roof gutters on your home can significantly reduce the risk of pipe blockages and associated water damage, designing and maintaining our creek corridors to function more naturally in storm events can also minimise risk of flooding.

Projects such as Small Creek (Ipswich City Council) and Hanlon Park (Brisbane City Council) are both designed to re-naturalise the creek corridor by removing old concrete-lined channels and replanting with native species accustomed to periodic inundation and drought periods - native species which also provide habitat for native bird species and reduce water velocities and help reduce risk of associated flood damage.

Climate responsive urban design is fundamentally about leaving space for natural systems to function, while keeping human activity out of harms way. In some cases, this may mean retrofitting or relocating human activities – such was done in Grantham post 2011 floods.

As Ian McHarg, author of the landmark book Design with Nature said: “Ecological planning should be health giving. Success in such planning or fitting should be revealed in the existence of healthy communities, physical, biological, and social system in dynamic equilibrium.“

by David Uhlmann | Director of Environment & Sustainability | Wolter Consulting Group

This article first appeared in UQ OOPS Connect Newsletter, Issue 7 available here

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