5 Jun 2018

Australian Cities have been resting on their laurels when it comes to green infrastructure and water management.

Whilst we have great examples across the country of activated greenspaces and vibrant waterfronts, more needs to be done to ensure that these spaces continue to evolve for future generations and increasing density in our cities.

Urbis Associate Director, Rachel Smithers spoke with #cityshaper Chris Chesterfield, a leading voice in the discussion around water management in cities, to explore how Australian cities can maximise the natural environment to manage our water and land to effect change and compete on the global stage.

Chris Chesterfield suggests that we are currently living off a past legacy of visionary planning and investment and we need a refreshed vision for greening our cities which incorporates local water management outcomes.

There is much that we can learn from international examples, particularly in the way they think about city shaping and how investment is about city shaping

Chris Chesterfield

Why are we only investing in ‘city-servicing’ infrastructure when we collectively acknowledge and understand the benefits of greening our cities in tackling a range of major issues – from public health and well-being, social integration, biodiversity connections and climate change mitigation and adaptation?

We have seen a number of international cities deliver significant green infrastructure (GI) networks, some great examples are Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London; Post Office Park, Boston; The High Line, New York; and Praca de Lisboa, Portugal. These urban parks have established GI frameworks that put landscape design at the heart of the process and take an integrated approach to investment.

What can our cities learn from the global stage?
  • We need to cross borders, not only geographically but professionally, to ensure a coordinated investment in GI, which ultimately will unlock new economic opportunities in our cities.
  • We require significant policy and institutional reforms based on new city shaping visions to ensure healthy environments, liveable communities and prosperous cities.

We need to really revisit the way we’ve shaped our cities in the past, the way we’ve responded to population growth and the importance of that green infrastructure in delivering the livibility and the amenity of the city

Chris Chesterfield

It is important to remember that we aren’t just planning for the current population, but for future generations to come. Often Australian cities find themselves playing catch up with GI and there is a struggle to keep pace with population growth. Chris Chesterfield describes a need for preemptive and ongoing investment in, not just grey infrastructure and transport infrastructure, but also GI as part of a more holistic approach to shaping cities and how they grow.

The Infrastructure Australia Report acknowledges the important role GI plays in maintaining a city’s liveability. However, this increasing recognition of the role of GI in our cities needs to be matched with funding.

We need a willingness to invest.

One of the things I think that sets places apart, waterfronts apart from one city to another is how those places are activated and the way that they’re used

Chris Chesterfield

One thing our cities have prioritised is the rejuvenation of our waterfronts. Australian cities have made a great deal of investment in creating vibrant, activated waterfront precincts. Chris Chesterfield comments on the importance of waterways to Australian cities and the need for considered design in relation to infrastructure. 

How can we support these important assets as our cities grow whilst also creating social, economically successful places for residents and visitors to enjoy? 

In our publication Shaping vibrant waterfronts, we look at the need to be mindful of the impact of waterfront design on the sustainability of our waterways. 


Density and activity drive waterfront success

Shaping vibrant waterfronts

Our findings in this publication support the notion that waterfronts need to be high-performance places with a best practice approach to infrastructure, to be sustainable. The critical ingredients in bringing waterfronts to life include sufficient density of development and intensity of commercial activity within an environmentally-friendly framework.

Facing challenges separately is a narrow-minded approach. We need to adopt more dynamic, integrated and forward-thinking solutions to deliver green spaces and vibrant waterfronts at multiple levels.

How do we deliver the next generation of green infrastructure?
  • Through cross administrative and operational boundaries to ensure cohesive GI. And, through state-wide, if not national, investment in a GI strategy.
  • By making key changes to local authorities’ policy documents to ensure GI is a core requirement including development plans and briefs.
  • Embedding GI in plans that lead to future funding opportunities.
  • Educating built environment practitioners, including developers, on an area’s strategic GI goals and nurturing an appreciation for how these goals contribute to creating liveable places and mitigating negative environmental impacts.
  • Positioning GI as a shared responsibility and creating a vision that is planned, delivered and managed effectively from the start.