Sustainable cities and communities

Prepared by Alexei Trundle and Professor Brendan Gleeson Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

A sustainable city draws on the resources of its local, regional and global environments without compromising their ecological, social and economic boundaries. It provides all its inhabitants with access to safe, healthy and inclusive livelihoods. And it protects the rights and wellbeing of its most vulnerable citizens.

Regrettably, Australia’s major cities fall well short of this definition. Our state and territory capital cities are characterised by dispersed, low-density housing and high levels of energy consumption based on greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels. As urban populations grow, greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector are rising, in part fuelled by a continued dependency on cars for personal transport. All this is contributing to the ecological footprints of Australia’s urban citizens, which remain some of the largest in the world.

Australian cities are also characterised by social inequality, with inequities in access to services, employment, public transport, and green and open space for urban communities.

Meanwhile, homelessness and housing affordability continue to worsen. With less people being able to afford their own home — and many existing homeowners under mortgage stress — household uptake of more sustainable and environmentally friendly technologies is lagging. Changes in climate are further testing the resilience of our cities. The worsening of many existing extreme weather risks due to climate change is already underway, with many Australian cities experiencing unprecedented heatwaves, bushfire conditions and accelerated coastal erosion and storm surge events.

Despite these challenges, philanthropy has an enormous opportunity to achieve a more transformative vision of Australia’s cities. Grantmakers can support research and initiatives to improve the sustainability of key systems, such as food, transport, energy, waste and recycling. With strategic urban planning a high priority, they can fund the research and advocacy needed to create systems change. They can support organisations with expertise in working with city councils to drive emissions reductions and climate change adaptation, as well as those working with urban communities to adopt healthier, more sustainable lifestyles.

Finally, foundations can consider investing their corpus in ventures that promote city sustainability, generating a return while creating the cities our communities — and the planet — so urgently need.

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