State of the Environment 2011 Committee. Australia state of the environment 2011.
Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Canberra: DSEWPaC, 2011.
10 Built environment
At a glance
The outlook for the built environment is mixed. On the one hand, the increasing pressures on the built environment resulting from population and economic growth and climate change pose significant challenges. Increasing urban land use and traffic congestion are two areas of concern; however, congestion will be less of an issue if the recent levelling off of motor vehicle travel continues and if there is growth in public transport. Waste generation continues to grow. On the other hand, there is emerging evidence of more efficient consumption of water and energy. Furthermore, recent initiatives to improve urban planning should lead to greater capability to deal with emerging challenges.
Australia's built environment faces a mixed future. As our population grows, the physical size of our cities—particularly the major cities—will continue to increase. Although this can be mitigated by urban infill, this also poses challenges for the built environment through increased demands on infrastructure, particularly roads, and urban amenity. Traffic congestion has two possible outlooks: a continuation of long-term trends towards significant increases in the social costs of congestion, or a continuation of more positive trends in motor vehicle use observed in recent years, including through the provision of better public transport. Maintaining the quality of urban environmental assets—such as parks, waterways and urban air—will require continued investment in urban infrastructure and other actions by governments; otherwise, the pressure of extra people and additional economic activity will be too great.
Climate change will also pose significant challenges for our cities, through the increased potential for property damage and loss of amenity caused by increased extreme weather events and rising sea levels, and through increased risks to human health within the built environment.
An increasing population and economic growth lead to increased consumption, which can lead to a greater demand for scarce natural resources and energy, as well as greater waste generation. However, these impacts can be mitigated through technological improvements that lead to more efficient use of resources, as well as changes in behaviours through pricing and other mechanisms. There is emerging evidence that the rate of growth in the use of natural resources has slowed and, in some cases, there appears to be falling per capita use of certain resources. It remains to be seen whether these recent trends, which could be influenced by specific events such as the recent drought, can be sustained over time. However, waste generation continues to grow.
The management of the built environment, particularly in regard to urban planning, has been only partially effective for many years, primarily due to a lack of coordination across disparate planning mechanisms. However, recent COAG initiatives and the recent development of a National Urban Policy are hopeful signs that there may be substantial improvements in the coordination and effectiveness of management in the near future.
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