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Published 30 November 2012 05:41, Updated 21 December 2012 16:50
Finding innovative ways to live more densely is a lot less sexy than green walls and communal vegetable gardens but arguably a lot more beneficial in a big picture sense. Photo: Angela Wylie
When did being green become so brash? I thought the idea of living green was being frugal, thinking sustainable and keeping our wants in check.
But perhaps because of all the new rating tools and the way big business has embraced them, being green now means driving a Prius, eating expensive vegetables, having a big Earth Hour party and working in a gleaming new green building.
Journalists like me have got a bit to answer for here. We only write about the exciting stuff. We like big dollar figures and cool gizmos. The houses that pivot so they face the sun in winter and face away from it in summer. The commercial buildings with trees planted on top. The politicians and businessmen drinking water that was once part of someone’s poo.
These things are great conversation starters but it’s often the mundane day-to-day stuff that really counts. Turning lights off, trying not to waste things, cycling to work. There is nothing new about the idea of doing more with less.
Developers are one part of town that consumers look to (while simultaneously rating them on par with used car salesmen and, er, journalists), in the hope that being green can involve spending a bit of extra money on a swanky new abode with green walls and then living comfortably forever with a clean conscience.
But somewhere down the line we have to make the sacrifices and often we’re not willing to.
Two years ago in Sydney’s leafy north shore suburb of Lane Cove, a team of property developers built six environmentally sustainable townhouses. But the strata managers, who took over once the developers sold, report that not everything has gone to plan.
The solar panels and rainwater tanks have worked a treat, reducing common property electricity bills to as little as $7 a quarter.
Other features of the building, less so. The developers sourced a timber for the exteriors which was mostly chemical free. But it didn’t stand up to the weather and was coated after two years with a less environmentally friendly product. Recycled bricks were used in the driveway but they started to crumble from the cars driving over them, and became covered with slippery moss and algae because they were too porous.
And the cross ventilation that was meant to prevent the use of airconditioners, didn’t. All six owners have since installed them.
Strata manager Chris Duggan applauds the developers and says the houses are great places to live. But he warns of the challenges his industry faces stemming from lofty displays of environmentalism.
“What it’s told us is that some of the ideas work well in practice while some do not,” he told industry magazine Inside Strata.
Along similar lines, I’ve heard entirely unsubstantiated rumours about employees running fans on their desks in some of the new super-green office buildings in the Sydney CBD.
But one of my biggest bugbears is when resident groups get together and oppose densification in their roomy inner-city neighbourhoods on environmental grounds.
One of the best examples was the story of Federal Court judge Dennis Cowdroy, who last year submitted plans to build a home on a former dunny lane in Sydney’s trendy Darlinghurst. The narrow house, on a 46 square metre parcel of land on Caldwell Avenue, was recommended for approval by the people who actually know what they’re talking about – the City of Sydney planning, heritage and urban design staff. It was a very clever design.
But angry residents, who probably considered themselves greenies because they had been using the lane as an extension of their backyards, convinced the elected councillors, including mayor Clover Moore, to overturn it.
Cowdroy then asked the residents and the council if anyone would like to buy his block of land from him (since everyone seemed to have an opinion about how it shouldn’t be used). Nobody made an offer.
Respected green architect Alec Tzannes can name two examples in the past year where attempts to build unusually small houses, assisted with clever design, have ended up in court.
Finding innovative ways to live more densely is a lot less sexy than green walls and communal vegetable gardens but arguably a lot more beneficial in a big picture sense. It’s accommodating greater density that will allow us to keep agriculture in the Sydney basin. Each new townhouse or apartment in the city could be sparing a 600 square metre patch of forest on the urban fringe.
Doing more with less, that’s what being green is about, isn’t it?