Breathe easy Australia … but more to be done
Australian cities boast air quality that is among the best found in urban centres across the world, however we face a number of challenges if we are to maintain or improve that standing.
The comparatively high quality of air found in Australian cities was a notable finding in the Atmosphere chapter of the recently released national report: State of the Environment 2016.
“Air quality is generally quite good in Australia’s cities, and they benefit from being quite spread out from one another,” says Dr Kathryn Emmerson, an atmospheric chemist at CSIRO and one of the authors of the Atmosphere chapter of the report.
“Unlike in places like Europe or Asia, air pollution from one Australian city doesn’t tend to impact on other cities because of the distance between them.”
Although the overall air quality picture is quite good, Australia is performing better in some areas than others. The report found that levels of carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, coarse particulate matter and sulfur dioxide have all decreased in the past 10 years. However, ozone and fine particle levels have not declined, and ongoing efforts will be required to better understand the impacts of this.
The report concluded that identifying the sources of fine particles (less than 2.5 microns in size) and reducing their presence in the atmosphere is one of the next major challenges on the air quality front.
“There needs to be further research into this because these fine particles can be breathed deeper into the lungs than larger particulate matter, which can cause greater health impacts. They can also be transported further and persist for longer in the atmosphere,” according to Dr Emmerson.
A new development since the 2011 State of the Environment report is that Australia has put in place air quality limits (supported by health experts) for these small particles.
In the ACT, residents have access to real-time air quality data through the Air Quality Index website launched by ACT Health in late 2014.
The relative good fortune Australians experience when it comes to air quality will be challenged by future population growth and predicted increases in energy and transport needs and associated emissions.
“Along with the increased emissions that will arise from population growth, we will also need to manage the impacts of climate change. For example, extreme heatwaves can change the chemical reactivity of the atmosphere, promoting the formation of photochemical smog,” Dr Emmerson says.
Ensuring air quality at Ginninderra
The most recent State of Environment Report for the ACT (2015) found that: ‘The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has good ambient air quality.’
‘The results of air quality monitoring during the reporting period show excellent results and continued compliance with National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure standards.’
The main source of emissions in the ACT continues to be motor vehicles. The report also found that pollution from wood smoke in winter is the major source of exceedances of particulate matter (PM) standards. ‘Smoke from bushfires and hazard reduction burns in the ACT and New South Wales also caused these standards to be exceeded.’
To maintain excellent air quality across the Ginninderra property, CSIRO plans to work closely with a future joint development partner and the community on initiatives such as:
- reducing car use (and associated emissions) by promoting walking and cycling
- planning for mixed-use to shorten the distances to access services/amenities
- designing buildings to reduce the energy requirements for heating and cooling
- creating sustainable energy systems, based on renewables and energy efficiency
- using open space and strategic vegetation plantings to trap particulate matter, and
- addressing urban heat island effect so temperature does not exacerbate air quality.
“One of our goals at Ginninderra is to deliver a high quality built environment that promotes clean air and the health and wellbeing of residents and visitors and also supports the health of the surrounding ecosystem,” said CSIRO Acting General Manager for Business and Infrastructure Services, Joe Colbert.
Site tour leads the conservation conversation
The conservation conversation was front and centre as members and experts from ACT environmental groups visited CSIRO’s Ginninderra Property on 6 June.
The question of: “How can we conserve and restore important environmental features within and beyond the boundaries of a proposed future urban development?” was top of mind as the group visited nine key sites across the property.
CSIRO researchers and expert consultants explained the findings of ecological surveys and their interpretation of key environmental features on the site, while also seeking initial advice and ideas from participants who included members from the Conservation Council ACT Region and its Biodiversity Working Group, Friends of Grasslands and the Ginninderra Catchment Group.
Throughout the tour, participants studied maps of the Ginninderra property showing CSIRO’s initial assessment of developable land (360.8 ha or 51% of the site), potential developable areas under review (129.4 ha, 18%), areas primarily protected by current legislation (130.9 ha, 19%) as well as additional areas CSIRO has set aside to protect conservation and heritage values (80.5 ha, 12%).
Some of the key features for mandatory protection are:
- high value Box Gum Grassy Woodlands and Derived Native Grasslands on the north of the site
- areas of Derived Native Grasslands where studies have recorded the presence of Golden Sun Moth and Striped Legless Lizard
- a Box Gum Grassy Woodland and Scribbly Gum Woodland area surrounding a nesting site of the Little Eagle
- an area of Box Gum Grassy Woodland adjacent to Owen Dixon Drive
- regulated trees and cultural heritage features
Other areas or features earmarked by CSIRO for protection include:
- the corridor (riparian zone) along Halls Creek and drainage lines
- areas of Scribbly Gum Woodland and Box Gum Grassy Woodlands that contribute important environmental values but are not technically protected under legislation
- important buffer zones and areas that add habitat and wildlife connectivity to protected areas, both on the site and in adjacent areas
Some important questions raised on the site visit included the need to define the boundaries for conservation areas and clarify the buffer and transition zones between areas under development and those under conservation. Road access within and to the site will also be an important factor in realising conservation goals.
Establishing sound principles for conservation and development from the outset was seen to be an essential ingredient for success.
So, coming back to the question: “How can such conservation and even restoration be successful in close proximity to an urban development?’” Based on early advice from conservation experts – it won’t happen by accident – but rather through diligent assessments, and applying clear principles and careful planning and implementation.
CSIRO is keen to do exactly that and to develop principles and plans with experts and the broader community through a participatory planning process.
The next steps are to further develop these conservation principles with the same groups through a workshop in late June and to follow that up with some broader community engagement in July.
The environmental principles and plans will then form part of the briefs for the eventual joint venture development partners selected by CSIRO.
Exploring Ginninderra’s past, present and future
After more than half a century of dedicated scientific research, CSIRO’s Ginninderra Field Station is entering a new phase. Planning and engagement has commenced to deliver a new benchmark in liveable, sustainable and resilient urban development.
The Ginninderra Field Station was established in 1958 as a site for plant and agricultural research. This was in anticipation of the closure of the Dickson Experiment Station to make way for urban development in that area, which eventually occurred in 1962.
As with the Dickson site, the Ginninderra Field Station has now been surrounded by urban development and is no longer optimal for CSIRO’s agricultural research. In 2011 CSIRO started considering options for Ginninderra’s future use.
Rather than simply sell the property, CSIRO saw Ginninderra as a great opportunity to bring its research together to make a difference, not only for local residents and the ACT, but for other Australian cities, people, industry and the environment.
The sustainable urban development of Ginninderra presents an opportunity for positive social, environmental and economic impact for the ACT and Australia, while generating revenue for the reinvestment into CSIRO innovation and research infrastructure.
In December 2012, CSIRO sought advice from the National Capital Authority about the correct process for seeking an amendment to the National Capital Plan. Through this, a long-term vision to deliver a new benchmark in sustainable urban development has arisen.
It’s a vision that has emerged through engagement with CSIRO’s science capability, undertaking environmental and heritage investigations, and initial conversations with the community, and one that will continue to evolve and bring lasting benefits.
CSIRO staff first met with ACT Government officials in July 2014 and have met regularly since then to discuss the possibilities for the potential development of the Ginninderra Field Station for urban use.
These meetings confirmed that the site presented an opportunity for greenfield development, which has been supported by the NCA’s response to the key issues considered as part of Amendment 86: ‘The CSIRO Ginninderra site presents an opportunity for greenfield development that can make use of existing infrastructure and services, and provides a more suitable alternative to cater for the growth of the city than other greenfield sites.’
CSIRO’s engagement with community groups, nearby residents and industry associations began in August 2015, coinciding with the land’s inclusion as part of Amendment 86.
This first round of engagement with the local community in September 2015 included three drop-in sessions at Gold Creek, Evatt and Charnwood and involved more than 220 people. This is only the beginning, as CSIRO aims to involve more of these people and groups in the conversation about how we can design and work together for a liveable, sustainable and resilient urban area.
On 5 May 2016, classification of the Ginninderra Field Station to ‘Urban’ as part of the National Capital Plan was approved. This decision paved the way for CSIRO to seek Expressions of Interest (EOI) for a suitable development partner.
Following the closing of the EOI on May 23, CSIRO is evaluating and shortlisting suitably qualified developers, ahead of a Request for Proposal process later in the year.
CSIRO is excited about the opportunity to continue to work with the community, government, research partners, and other stakeholders, to create something unique at Ginninderra.
CSIRO is also committed to continuing the discussions with ACT Government agencies to harmonise with future planning goals and aspirations.
Future steps for the Ginninderra project include a site visit with conservation groups and workshop in June, community forum in July, additional community meetings in early 2017, as well as planning, approvals and detailed design in 2018. The earliest that any development could commence on the site is in 2019.
Bold green vision for Ginninderra future
Over the past few years a vision has been emerging for what a sustainable urban development backed by science and innovation could be like.
Our vision is to restore and improve our natural environment while setting a new benchmark for sustainable urban development.
The terms ‘benchmark and sustainable’ apply to the extent to which we can maximise and maintain the stream of future environmental, social and economic benefits, that flow from the development and its surrounding natural values.
The aspirations for Ginninderra are closely aligned with many of Australia’s key policy settings and targets namely in areas of national innovation, infrastructure, cities and built environment, energy and climate, water and the economy.
CSIRO is well placed to significantly address these important issues because of our coverage of relevant research areas and our capacity to draw on all of these and engage the right collaborators and partners.
We are looking to provide multiple benefits through combining a diversity of housing, community and recreational facilities together with some retail and commercial opportunities, all integrated with the restoration, conservation and management of the landscape and its important natural and heritage values such as the endangered Box Gum Grassy Woodlands.
We are absolutely committed to the management and restoration at Ginninderra of areas of threatened vegetation types and species that are protected by ACT or Commonwealth legislation.
Protection of trees regulated and administered by the Tree Protection Act 2005 is an essential component and CSIRO is developing guidelines that extend beyond its regulatory obligations to ensure their preservation.
This commitment has extended to comprehensive environmental studies that sees approximately 130ha of the site largely protected by legislation and a further 80ha that CSIRO has identified should be managed to protect ecological and heritage values.
Ginninderra residents and other water and energy users will draw benefits from the efficient and sensitive management and use of water and the leading-edge energy efficiency and renewable energy opportunities that we are exploring for the site.
We want to contribute to the evolution of urban areas from being ‘consumer and polluter’ to being ‘energy and water efficient’ and ‘environment protectors’.
We want to help solve the issue of affordable housing, particularly for those in the lower 40 per cent of incomes.
Encouraged by the ideas and feedback generated at our recent gathering of experts – The Affordable Housing Think Tank – we are firmly committed to providing real and lasting affordable housing options, among the property mix at Ginninderra. This will extend well beyond the asking price for moving into the neighbourhood, to various other aspects that affect the cost of living including energy, water and transport.
These topics and others including urban food growing, waste minimisation, recycling and reuse have regularly been raised in our community conversations and we will continue to explore these in future planning together with our joint venture partner.
We are aspiring to urban planning and design that can promote such features, encourage social interactions and connections and maintain an accessible open space network.
CSIRO is committed to keep building this vision with the community and to plan the development with and for the community. There are many steps and stages in front of us before any development occurs and we want to work with the community throughout.
We see community innovation and opportunities for ‘citizen science’ as fundamental components in the creation and future success of this venture.
Citizen science and community activity is already underway and helping to deliver our environmental commitments at five sites across our Ginninderra property, led by the Ginninderra Catchment Group, Landcare member groups and some of its 500 volunteers. This group is extending its work with autumn burning to recover and restore native grasslands in the Ginninderra catchment.
This and other community-driven work will provide valuable insights on how best to restore and conserve areas of the endangered White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland and Derived Native Grassland located on the site.
CSIRO is committed to remaining involved and achieving the exemplar in sustainable urban development.
The reason we are seeking a joint venture development partner is because we want to be closely involved with Ginninderra – firstly, to ensure that we can achieve these conservation, sustainability, liveability and affordability goals. Beyond that we want to realise knowledge and innovation from this development that can be applied more broadly for benefit in the ACT, Australia and beyond.
Designing cities for our work future
The changing nature of work will have a large impact on where we spend our time in the cities of the future.
Researchers from CSIRO’s Data61 team have undertaken research into trends that will impact employment markets over the coming 20 years, as well as the set of skills and mindsets needed for the future.
Their recent report Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce: Megatrends and Scenarios for jobs and employment in Australia over the next twenty years examines the changing nature of work in Australia due to technological, economic, social, environmental and geopolitical trends.
“With increasing knowledge of emerging trends, comes new opportunities to design our cities to accommodate the changing face of our workforce and to harmonise with the evolving nature of work itself,” said Andrew Reeson, an economist with CSIRO Data 61.
“Designing cities to account for growing employment opportunities in service industries such as healthcare and professional services, is one case in point.
“We are likely to see continued growth in jobs that require creativity, complex judgement, advanced reasoning, social interaction and emotional intelligence rather than those that can more easily be managed through automation or artificial intelligence.”
It is not only the work itself that is changing. Technological advances are also offering us new ways to get to and from work, such as in autonomous vehicles, or online-booked and GPS-tracked share vehicles. These can reduce commute times and the demand for car ownership and double garages.
We can also expect more people to be working from within their local neighbourhoods but providing services globally. CSIRO has been pioneering techniques that let experts use consumer hardware to complete physical tasks over the internet regardless of geography, according to senior research engineer with CSIRO Data61, Matt Adcock.
“Smartphones and tablets are gaining 3D sensing capabilities and that means a 3D video can be streamed to someone who is trying to help you,” said Mr Adcock.
“The remote expert can draw onto 3D video and the local user can see those drawings overlayed onto the physical world using augmented reality.”
Another example could be for roadside assistance.
“Instead of waiting hours for roadside assistance to reach you, someone at any location connected by phone could help you triage and troubleshoot the problem in 3D,” said Mr Adcock. “You could get back on the road much sooner.”
The hypothetical scenarios are endless with the open-ended opportunities of advancing technology. For example, a community hub at Ginninderra could be home to a classroom where students are being taught a physical task (craft, art, DIY handiwork, cooking, etc.) by an expert ‘beaming in’ from another country using data projection and remote guidance technology like that being developed at the CSIRO.
At Ginninderra there could be the opportunity to create ‘smart working hubs’ within walking distance of homes, resulting in less traffic and environmental burden, and provide access to a broader range of skills and expertise.
Planning for the future
Retaining green spaces and corridors and protecting Ginninderra’s ecology has already been raised by many community members during the consultations so far.
As part of the process, we are conducting environmental studies to fully understand the Ginninderra landscape and ecology. At 701 hectares, it is a large piece of land with variations across the site. While studies are still ongoing, environment and conservation are a key consideration for the site.
Based on studies so far, approximately 150 hectares of the land is unlikely to be developable due to its topography, heritage and ecological values, and will likely remain open space.
This will provide valuable recreational and conservation areas, as well as preserve some of the views of the hills and ridges currently experienced by adjoining suburbs. These open spaces will also allow for wildlife to continue traversing the property.
Alongside the farmland on the site is a diverse ecology, including protected species such as the golden sun moth and box gum woodlands along with many other plant and animal species.
A program for ongoing management to support critical ecosystem services, biodiversity, and cultural values will be developed. With the support and research of CSIRO scientists, the approach to conservation management will take into account multiple factors, as part of an overall avoidance, mitigation and offset strategy. This will include measures to restore and support conserved areas.
Offsetting measures, if required, would seek to establish compensatory areas as close to the location of the impact as possible and would follow the established Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 offset policy.
The project team working on the biodiversity assessment aspect of the project were responsible for preparation of the Gungahlin Strategic Assessment and are also presently working with the Riverview Group and ACT Government (LDA) in preparation of the West Belconnen Strategic Assessment.
The team has a detailed appreciation of the broader opportunities and constraints in the wider area, providing consistency between these connected parts of the landscape.
The Ginninderra site is an important part of Canberra and we look forward to working with local residents, conservation and community groups on the future of this land.
If you have any questions or suggestions on the environmental management of Ginninderra, please contact us.