Reflections on community

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Now that I’ve gone from working in the city to working for myself from home, I’ve noticed how different my suburb is during the week. I used to only experience it on the weekends.

During the week there are more older people around, more people with disabilities and the pace is much slower. It’s more relaxed than on the weekends when the cafes and shops are busy.

Another thing I now notice is that while the huge shopping malls keep expanding, the little strip shopping centres tend to be dying. There are ‘for lease’ signs up all around and shops are empty. Is there anything than can or should be done about that?

This got me thinking a bit about community and what makes a good community, and it reminded me of a couple of things:

One, which I wrote a blog post about a while ago. Architecture and urban design students at universities are now learning about sustainability in urban planning as best practice.

Developments are now more likely to include things like rainwater harvesting and electricity generation. Walking, bike riding and public transport will be the preferred transport options of the future, with cars available as needed via car sharing.

These communities of the future will include a mix of housing suitable for people of all ages and life stages and lifestyles. They will include child care and aged care and won’t be built around a Monday to Friday 9 am to 5 pm kind of work week. People will work at all hours, all days and have their leisure time spread more flexibly throughout the day too.

The other thing it reminded me of was a program I saw on television recently, on Catalyst on the ABC. It was about how cities will have to change to accommodate all of the extra people that are moving from rural areas. This, combined with a growing global population, projected to rise to 9 billion by 2050, will place huge demand on housing.

Australia has been one of the more urbanised countries, in that more people have lived in cities than in rural areas, for a long time. That’s now happening all around the world, where people are moving away from farms seeking jobs in cities.

Rather than sprawling, cities will need to grow up, with infill development and development of brownfields sites (places that used to be industrial). This type of planning is already taking place in Melbourne, but there is a lot of community concern about the effects it will have on liveability and cultural heritage.

The urban heat island effect is when tightly concentrated buildings, roads and concrete attract and retain the heat of the sun making cities unable to cool down overnight. Even now city centres can be more than 4 degrees hotter than outer suburbs on a hot day.

For that reason a lot of this new urban planning and design for the future will have more parkland and trees. The houses won’t be as big and people won’t have big yards but they will have access to quite a lot of public open space and those spaces will have other roles too, like harvesting rainwater and growing community gardens.

There’s some great stuff potentially going to happen in the future, but it will require us all to change the way we think about living in cities. Personally, I’m quite excited about it.

I just hope governments at all levels: Federal, State and Local can implement the policies and master planning required for this vision to become a reality. The alternative could be quite dire.

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