Recent collaboration between the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and the US-based Sustainable Sites Initiative may prove ‘a game-changer’

New tool for measuring Australia’s urban sustainability

The SITES rating tool for green landscape could be the trigger for a shift towards a more integrated and holistic approach, says Catherine Neilson from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA).

Writing for the online publication ‘The Fifth Estate’, Neilson notes that over the past decade there has been increasing focus at government and community level on improving the sustainability performance of Australian cities and settlements. ‘A great deal of attention has been paid to how we might best define and monitor progress in this area,’ she writes, ‘and a plethora of tools developed for measuring and rating the sustainability performance of buildings and other hard infrastructure within our cities and towns.’

Yet previous research conducted by the AILA in partnership with the International Federation of Landscape Architects and CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scienctific and Industrial Research Organisation), has identified significant gaps in the scope and capacity of existing sustainability assessment tools, Neilson claims.

‘Despite the fact that the urban landscapes in and around our cities can amount to 60 per cent of the total urban area, concerns have been raised regarding the extremely poor capacity within most existing tools for appropriately measuring urban environmental quality or green infrastructure performance as a key component of overall urban sustainability.’

Neilson writes: ‘We can no longer afford to ignore this deficiency. The landscapes that surround us and provide the backdrop to our daily lives are our primary life support system. More than half of the world’s wild places are now gone forever, and over 50 per cent of the global population now live in cities.’

Over the coming decade, she argues, ‘urgent reform in the way we plan and design our urban environments will be crucial in reversing the dangerously declining levels of biodiversity and landscape quality worldwide before the trend becomes unstoppable’.

One of the key findings of The State of Australian Cities 2012 report, Neilson writes, was that ‘the proper management of natural systems and green infrastructure can make major contributions to the sustainability and liveability of our cities, including the strategic role of sustainable landscape design in improved climate adaptation outcomes. Yet to date there are no agreed guidelines or tools for defining and measuring“proper” management of our urban landscapes, much less goals and targets to conserve and enhance this critical regenerative asset base for current and future generations.

‘The Sustainable Sites Initiative is set to change all that.’

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