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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Higher density is more sustainable

Brisbane and the whole of Southeast Queensland is set for rapid population growth over the coming decades. Estimating how many people will arrive is difficult but it’s safe to say there will be many more people living in the region than there are today.

To deal with this growth, councils and the state government have realised that the only sustainable way to accommodate people is to increase the density and stop the urban sprawl. Provided people don’t take to living underground, that means build up…yes more storeys.

A sprawling city is disastrous. More land has to be cleared for houses – you don’t have to clear airspace when you build upwards instead of outwards. Public transport is inefficient when people are dispersed. Infrastructure such as electricity, water, sewage, telephones and internet is more expensive per person in a sprawling city. Policing is more expensive, less effective and not as visible in a sprawling metropolis. As far as environmental sustainability goes, higher density wins hands down in a well planned city.

In the past, Australians have rejected higher density living, opting for the sprawling cities we now inhabit such as Greater Sydney and Southeast Queensland. Large conurbations mimicking Los Angeles and much of California. But now we are reaching the limits. The commute from the outer suburbs to Brisbane city once took 20 – 30 minutes but now can take 60 – 75 minutes or more – to much wasted time. Prices for blocks of land in the inner suburbs are now out of reach of most people. Cheaper more efficient alternatives are needed.

The solution lies in filling in the gaps within the inner suburbs and building up.

Unfortunately the current ‘first settlers’ of these inner suburbs don’t want to see their suburb change. Objections such as ‘change the character’, or ‘spoil the skyline’ are proffered. They prefer to banish the generally younger generations to a life of constant commuting on the ethic of first come first served.

The beachside suburb of Manly is currently looking at plans to increase development heights to 5 storeys in certain areas. Small groups are rallying to object on the basis that it spoils the ambience of the village. On weekends you can see the oldies (those first settlers) signing the petitions down by the markets.

Change is a part of growth, people change as they grow up and cities will change too. As we approach the limits of resources, our attitudes towards those resources change. We begin to use them in a more sustainable way.

Building works cause fish kill in beachside lake

There has been a large fish kill in a lake at Beachmere near Bribie Island. This morning residents noticed thousands of fish floating on the surface of the lake. The fish had died overnight. Many species were affected and those identified include mullet, mangrove jack, bream, whiting and flathead. The cause is not confirmed but recent building works at the nearby sewage pumping station is suspected.

A marine biologist who lives near the lake has reported that a pipe from the building site is pumping approximately 2 litres of ground water per minute into the lake. The ground water is not contaminated with sewage but unfortunately it is rich in sulphur compounds. These compounds consume oxygen to form the ‘rotten egg gas’ or sulphur dioxide which residents have reported smelling. The lake is not flushed daily by the tide and inputs stay there for a while. The input of ground water from the building works is likely to be consuming the oxygen in the lake, leaving non for the fish and subsequently causing their death.

Ground water in the estuarine regions of southeast Queensland are often rich in sulphur compounds. When they are undisturbed they do no harm. When they are pumped into water that is poorly flushed fish kills do occur.

Poor planning appears to be responsible here. If the ground water had been pumped into a well flushed system then it is unlikely that such as large fish kill would have occurred.

Pumping out anoxic ground water into adjacent waterways is a common practice in southeast Queensland. Our reporters have seen it being done on waterfront developments on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. Council should have foreseen the effects of this action and if an environmental consultant reviewed the development proposal, someone should be looking to see if they were negligent.