Exploring the Paradox of Sustainable Urban Development: Towards Urban Resilience?
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
This thesis explores the paradox that urban development continues down a cost minimisation approach resulting in low-density, car-orientated, energy-intensive urban form even though the social and environmental benefits of creating resilient residential communities through the adoption of collective sustainable urban designs and practices are well known. Fundamentally the thesis is concerned with exploring the barriers to creating resilient residential communities in order to establish pathways towards reducing cities’ vulnerability to peak oil and impacts on climate change To achieve this, the urban governance configurations and development practices at three ‘innovative’ residential development sites were investigated to understand the barriers to constructing sustainable residential communities. The first site was Wigram Skies, Christchurch, New Zealand which is being produced by an indigenous development corporation, Ngai tahu Property. The second is Kirimoko, Wanaka, New Zealand which is being produced by an environmental developer, and the third is Aurora, Melbourne Australia, which is being produced by a government development agency, VicUrban. There is a particular emphasis on developer values and actor interactions, as well as the political and institutional processes that influence the adoption of sustainable water management initiatives and energy efficient designs and concepts at these sites. This provides an understanding of New Zealand’s and Australia’s progress towards ‘urban resilience’. This is a concept that is increasingly being used to provide a longer-term, holistic view of sustainable urban development. Case study analysis was applied as the main method of enquiry to understanding and conducting this investigation. The case studies draw on data gathered from seventeen semi-structured interviews, two focus groups, two fieldtrips and document analysis. The case studies revealed power relations between actors during the development process resulting in internal and/or external ‘silo-thinking’ and design objective conflicts. Council planners’ and urban designers’ knowledge and experience, coupled with developers’ cost and risk minimisation mindset and potential home purchasers’ housing preferences are regarded as the main factors that influence the design and therefore end product of residential developments. The adoption of sustainable water management initiatives at the three development sites was influenced by council plans and developers’ desire to add amenity for marketing purposes. The complexities of design, maintenance and health concerns were the main factors that can influence the adoption of sustainable water management initiatives. There are no mandates that require energy efficient designs or concepts at the three sites and therefore such initiatives shown at two sites (Kirimoko and Aurora) were voluntary design approaches. The reluctance to incorporating such design approaches stems from a current market and psychological resistance to paying for and realising the benefits of active and passive solar design. This thesis suggests that greater political leadership, financial incentives and further research carried out on urban governance configurations, consumer preferences and the economic benefits of sustainable urban design are required to ensure progress towards urban resilience and reduce cities’ vulnerability to peak oil and impacts on climate change.