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Why a new ‘walkable city’ is a sustainable solution for Melbourne’s west

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

Melbourne’s problems with traffic congestion are well documented, exacerbated by continued population growth and urban sprawl. Intensive roadworks are also underway, causing further headaches for commuters. While more transport infrastructure may be needed, there’s also demand for solutions that help make the commute unnecessary in the first place.


The Australia Education City (AEC) development proposed for East Werribee is one such solution, supporting a more decentralised Melbourne so that people can ditch the drive, yet still have equitable access to work, services and cultural attractions.


Walkable urban places the future of development

The AEC will combine university campuses, a research and development hub, business and residential development, sporting and artistic precincts, as well as green spaces, lakes, bike paths and walkways—all connected by smart city technologies. By putting the right infrastructure and services on people’s doorstep, it’s possible to create urban centres where people can live, work and play within a 10-20 minute walk from home.


A 2016 report on walkable urbanism in American cities by The George Washington University School of Business found that, “…metros with the highest levels of walkable urbanism are also the most educated and wealthy (as measured by GDP per capita)— and, surprisingly, the most socially equitable.” The report states that while walkable urban development can include revitalising city centres, the future urbanisation of suburbs holds the greatest opportunities.


Its authors suggest that, “Focusing predominantly on the redevelopment of the central city misses segments of the market that want walkable urbanism closer to suburban households and businesses.” Another study that examined the link between walkability and the quality and sustainability of neighbourhoods found that walkability improved housing values and reduced crime.


Does a new walkable city belong in the west?

Affordable housing in Melbourne’s west has attracted a large cohort of highly educated residents—a ready-made workforce that could benefit from skilled technology and science jobs that will be generated by the AEC development.


AEC’s Project Lead for Development Design and Delivery Shane Sheedy said the local community were also desperate for schools, community services and creative outlets, and there was agreement that only a city could provide for what was lacking. “By communicating with the community, people have to come to realise that AEC is real, it’s not too grand, it’s not out of scale, and it’s what the west needs to grow,” Sheedy said.


“We don’t want to go and create a new outer suburb. To create a city, you need vibrancy, density and the right mix of uses to be able to have the right city feel,” he said.

Sheedy said the development had drawn inspiration from other successful mixed-use hubs around the world, like Singapore’s Biopolis, and London’s Canary Wharf.


He said approval for local projects like the Parramatta Gateway development validated the need to invest in polycentric cities, but AEC would be a step ahead because its infrastructure would be built new rather than retrofitted. “This site is special. It’s a one-off opportunity to create something pivotal for the region. It’s not just going to just bring tall buildings, it’s going to be an anchor for jobs, health, education, the arts and other key services,” he said. “The density of the site will provide a catalyst for these amenities to come into the region and it will be a real beacon for the west.”


What about environmental sustainability?

Developments that achieve the sweet spot between density, convenience and liveability are also better placed to reduce the environmental footprint of its residents. AEC Executive Director Ross Martiensen said creating what was essentially a second CBD from scratch meant the city could apply global best practices and trial new technologies to achieve sustainability gains.


“We expect that public transport will be the primary mode of transit, and we also have a goal to be energy neutral—to provide enough energy for the site from sustainable sources,” Martiensen said. He said planned initiatives include the use of microgrids and renewables; energy storage via battery banks; and centralised cooling, heating and waste management services shared by neighbourhoods.


“We’re looking at smart city technology and putting artificial intelligence tools over top of that so that we can constantly see how the city is operating and how people are operating within the city, to eliminate wastage on a dynamic basis.”


“A lot of the feedback we’ve had from industry is that they want to participate in AEC because of our full smart city implementation. They see it as a globally unique set of infrastructure they can work within to develop their own new models, applications and technologies—that can then be exported across the globe.”


Martiensen said AEC’s focus on embedding clever approaches would lead to greater efficiency, wellbeing and balance for both locals and Melbourne more broadly, that would be sustainable over the long term.


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