Liveability and creating healthy communities will be the focus of future cities, according to international sustainability experts.
Katie Swenson, a US-based leader in sustainable design for low income communities, emphasises the importance of well designed, sustainable and affordable housing.
Speaking at the Green Property Summit earlier this year, Ms Swenson argued that housing people and creating engaged communities not only has good social outcomes, but also saves a city money.
“Failing to do so means you will be engaging with this problem via your health and social services. Therefore, the role our buildings play in creating healthy, engaged communities has far-reaching social consequences,” Ms Swenson says.
“For the homeless, when you design a home that is beautiful and well suited, 98% remain stably housed. This indicates there are health benefits to how and where we live. This is a consideration for the property industry.”
Ms Swenson outlined her work for Enterprise Community Partners and the establishment of the Green Communities Criteria, the only national green building standard with direct applicability to affordable housing.
“Low-income communities experience disproportionately high rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and mental health issues. The Green Communities Criteria, which is a national green building standard, harnesses the power of design to improve residents’ health through ‘Active Design’ requirements.
“This can include simple, cost-effective measures such as improving stairwell access and visibility.
“We also promote healthy neighbourhoods, rather than just buildings. Access to services around a building are also important, and help create a happy, engaged community where people want to live.”
Obesity has a postcode
Summit speaker Davina Rooney, from Stockland, Australia, agreed, suggesting that we need to plan our future cities better to improve health and liveability.
“Obesity has a post code. The urban planning we do now, and the infrastructure we put in place will have a direct impact on the health of our children.”
American guest speaker Paul Rode also emphasised the importance of using technology to design, plan and connect cities.
“Ten years ago, green design was all about energy efficiency as the cost of utilities was going up. Today, technological innovation means utility costs are declining. Now, green development is about liveability and creating communities and improving existing buildings.
“Cities of the future will be neighbourhoods connected by high speed internet, which links all the systems needed to support these communities.
Mr Rode’s advice to New Zealand? “Make sure your buildings are better integrated into the site. Your street and traffic flows are not co-ordinated with pedestrians — it’s crazy walking around here.”
New Zealand Green Building Council chief executive Andrew Eagles says better buildings and homes mean a better quality of life.
“It’s time to have a conversation about the built environment in New Zealand. Working with industry and Government to set out a trajectory for the built environment will provide certainty for the construction and property sector, and greater productivity and better outcomes for New Zealanders,” Mr Eagles says.
Property Council New Zealand national president Peter Mence called on the property industry to do more.
“As a property industry, we must manage our resources reasonably. Personally, I do not believe the industry is moving fast enough, and we need to lift our game.”
In his closing address to the summit, Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend agreed.
“We all need to get on board and create sustainable, green buildings that people want to live and work in,” he says.
The summit is a joint event by the New Zealand Green Building Council and Property Council New Zealand.