Environmental sustainability vs development: are they exclusive?

Samantha Gray

The Gold Coast from above

From the sandy beaches, to the tropical rainforests to highly urban areas, Gold Coast is a beautifully diverse environment.

But this diversity presents a multitude of environmental challenges, such as erosion, mudslides, koala conservation and wetland protection.

As the population grows and Gold Coast expands, how do we balance the need for development with the needs of the environment that surrounds us?

State Member for Bonney, Sam O’Connor, said one of the biggest issues in terms of environmental management, is a massive disconnect between people in urban areas and people in the regions.

“From my travels with farmers, they’re the ones who feel to blame for the problems that the reef is having and they’re doing everything they can as they view it as their backyard.

“Locally, I have a fairly small electorate, but we have many concerns about the quality of the Broadwater,” he said.

One aspect contributing to this disconnect is the long coastal layout of the city.

Mr O’Connor MP gave Helensvale as an example of badly planned infrastructure, as the train meets light rail at a large shopping centre and national highway.

This should then classify the area ‘high density development’ but it is still zoned as ‘industrial’.

“You need to have the right infrastructure, particularly when it comes to the public transport, then you need to be smart around how you develop around that, and you’ve got to be upfront with people,” he said.

By correctly utilizing the area’s Gold Coast already have developed and making those environmental considerations ahead of time, Mr O’Connor believes the city could be the future of sustainable development.

“If you cram more people in and around those infrastructure hubs in the right way, then you don’t have to keep spreading out. And that’s where we’ve seen some of the challenges environmentally.

“In the history of the Gold Coast, it has been far too often the only areas that get protected are the areas that are too hard to develop, and I think there’s still a bit of that in general.”

While the housing market demands more development, climate change makes conditions more unpredictable and therefore new innovations and research are constantly needed.

Award-winning Urban and Environmental Planner, Dr Tony Mathews, said that the largest constraint is what usable space you have in and around buildings in large urban areas.

“Greenery is one of the big ones, and there’s increasingly a growing and evolving worldwide understanding of that in both research and practice, if you can build and incorporate a reasonably generous amount of greenery into that environment, then it will be a more sustainable,” Dr Mathews said.

Whether the development is new, a remodelling or simply adding to existing infrastructure, Dr Mathews said there are many ways to mitigate environmental impacts in the long term.

“Green infrastructure technologies like green rooms and green walls can allow you to do that and then you have things like biophilic building, which are buildings that are built with living organisms as part of them,” he said.

Researchers have also become aware of the social importance of including nature in development as less greenery leads to less outside activities, which in turn limits social interactions as well.

“The key is something in the middle, a reasonable amount of density and high-quality development that meets the needs of the users living or working there, that also incorporates a reasonably decent provision of greenery and green space,” Dr Mathews said.

However, with most urban areas already developed how can we adapt for the predicted changes and increasing intensity of the climate?

Dr Mathews believes climate change adaptation is inherently local.

Each area will have its own vulnerabilities that adaptations will need to be tailored to.

“If you’re in the bush land, then you are potentially going to have an increased vulnerability to bushfires because of climate change.

“So, for your property then, that becomes a priority point of adaptation,” he said.

“For another person’s property, they may be close to the coast and therefore at more risk of coastal erosion.

“So, they may need to look at fortification of their property or the shoreline or using any other number of coastal engineering techniques to protect property, many which are used throughout the Gold Coast and elsewhere on Australia’s coastlines.”

Gold Coast local, Vivienne Chen has been a housing complex manager for over seven years and deals with the maintenance of both the infrastructure as well as the environment in the complexes.

An initiative that Mrs Chen started for all the complexes she manages is that whatever number of trees or plants they remove from the complex, they replace the same amount.

 “We just need to do the right thing.”

“When we trim or remove trees, we need professional advice from arborist, and we get approval from counsel before we remove any plants from the complex.”

“I think actually the nature of the complex is one, to be honest, what we can do is just everyone needs to respect each other. And just also show respect to the common property,” she said.

One concern that her local area faces is flooding due to the downward slope of the landscape and the increased intensity of summer storms and rainfall.

“We do have various drainage located within the complex and we inspect on a regular basis and get a plumber to clean if needed.

“And sometimes, if we have heavy rains and big lot of water built up, we will just get a plumber to inspect straightaway,” Mrs Chen said.

Residents in the complex, Sue and Graham, have watched the local environment change before their eyes.

“We used to see possums, bush turkeys, wallabies, corellas, irises.

“The bush turkeys have actually disappeared, we haven’t seen them for probably a year or so.”

“It is lovely and quiet here, so I don’t think they get disturbed too much.

“And it is a big area that they’ve got, when you look all the way back,” Sue said.

“I do worry about the fragmentation of the habitat. When they tried to cross the road from one area of bush to another,” Graham said.

“When you have a high-density population of people, you’re always going to have that issue.

So, you’re disrupting the wildlife whenever you build a housing complex,” he said.

Leave a Reply