Making the Suburbs ‘More Sustainable’?
Sustainability or resilience is not necessarily good or bad, but depends on what is being ‘sustained’, and how that is valued by stakeholders in that system. It is therefore an inherently subjective assessment.
Notions of environmental sustainability are particularly rooted in the impact of human energy use (including embodied energy in resources) on the performance or sustainability of natural systems, due to depletion of resources (energy) or interference in the relationships between systems (energy transfer). Maintaining these systems is valuable in its own right, and because human life, society and economics is ultimately dependent on the continued healthy operation of the environment.
Much of sustainability thinking has thus focused on reducing human energy use (sustainable development), or utilising energy in less impactful ways, generally through technology (ecological modernisation).
But there is another side to sustainability, which considers society, economics and the environment as interdependent variables in a complex self-sustaining system, and re-frames ‘sustainability’ as a way of building capacity and flexibility within all these domains so that our values as stakeholders are optimised.
As a student of architecture and the interaction between people and the built environment i believe that the key to this is the idea of quality of life and the notion of inter and intra-generational equity; people, both within this generation and in the next, must be put at the center of change, as the ‘managers’ of systems that will ultimately be responsible for ensuring change occurs at all.
Improvements to the Austinmer House (ie replacement of insulation, glazing or energy systems) would likely be high cost (thousands to tens of thousands) produce high embodied energy waste (as they have only been installed for a few years) and deliver only minor improvements in relative energy reduction
Proposal for subdivision of the house using minimal interventions.
Building capacity for flexibility and housing choice within the existing building stock
Retrofit ‘less building’ – energy and economic cost can be spread across more people.
Improve communal relationships and resilience – compensate smaller footprint through public space improvements.
Providing income – economic sustainability.