Urban researchers nominated for Banksia Sustainability Award

Research on biodiversity conservation in cities by two urban researchers has been recognised by the Banksia Foundation for its excellence in sustainability practice.

As urban sprawl expands across the globe, planners and ecologists must come together to promote innovative approaches to conservation.

The Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design (BSUD) protocol developed by Dr Georgia Garrard and Associate Professor Sarah Bekessy of the Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group from RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research has done just that, earning a nomination as a finalist for the 2016 Banksia Sustainable Cities Award.

The research, backed by The Myer Foundation, presents a re-visioning of the Fishermans Bend urban renewal area as a model for sustainable mid-rise development across Melbourne.

The project aims to bridge the disconnect between the built and natural environments by linking urban design to measurable outcomes for native species and ecosystems, says lead researcher Dr Georgia Garrard.

“Australian cities are home to many native plants and animals – including threatened species – and so enhancing nature in cities can make an important contribution to conservation,” she said.

“But, for too long, biodiversity conservation has been thought of as something that happens ‘out there’; outside of our cities and away from where vast majority of Australians live.”

“Rather than considering nature as a problem to be dealt with, we viewed it as a compelling opportunity and valued resource to be preserved and enhanced by planning and design.”

Together, Garrard and Bekessy developed designs and visualisations of an alternative model of sustainable mid-rise development by incorporating ecologically-based urban design principles into the re-visioning process to create an environment that would re-enchant urban residents with nature and provide the multitude of co-benefits that come with experiences in nature.

To provide practical guidelines for designing cities where nature can thrive, the team developed a Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design (BSUD) protocol.

“BSUD incorporates current ecological knowledge into an evidence-based urban design protocol in order to create cities that are good for people and nature,” Garrard said.

“We wanted BSUD to improve the fate of native species within the built environment, while delivering a multitude of benefits to urban residents, through improvements to human health and wellbeing and a better capacity for the city to mitigate the pressures of climate change.

“We approached this challenge by combining ecological understanding to incorporate biodiversity conservation into the planning system, with a targeted communication and engagement strategy to increase the appetite for change within the community.”

While the case study presented is focussed on Fishermans Bend, Garrard says this model could potentially be applied to a range of infill sites identified in inner Melbourne and established middle-ring suburbs, as well as priority greenfield areas.

“There is a growing enthusiasm for urban greening in cities around the world to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Garrard said.  

“Urban greening clearly offers opportunities for biodiversity conservation in cities, and BSUD provides the guidance necessary for cities to capitalise on this unique opportunity.

“Importantly, because it creates opportunities for urban residents to engage with nature in the places where they live, work, play and travel, BSUD provides a much-needed and complementary addition to traditional urban ecological networks such as remnant vegetation, parklands and waterways.”

Looking to the future, Garrard says the team aims to mainstream BSUD within the planning and design process, to improve the fate of native species that rely on cities and reconnect urban residents with nature and the remarkable range of benefits that it provides.

“We believe that a Banksia award would give this work the profile needed to take it to the next level of industry, political and community uptake,” she said.

The Banksia Foundation Sustainability Awards program celebrates individual and organisations for their excellence in addressing sustainability issues across Australia and recognises their initiatives as an example for others to follow in driving enduring change for sustainable future.

The winners will be announced at a formal presentation on November 30 2016 in Sydney.

Story: Sharon Lee