Development of a network of circular economy villages
How to design garden cities in the 21st century to support the economic growth of regions? How will new technologies, in particular the Internet and renewable energies, influence future settlement patterns? Can the principles of the circular economy enable economic activity that has a positive impact on the earth and on people?
Since Ebenezer Howard mobilized the Garden City movement 120 years ago, there hasn’t been a more exciting time to be a city planner. Howard’s goal in planning garden cities was to find ways to “redistribute population in a spontaneous and healthy way.”
Joel Kotkin in The Coming Age of Dispersion claims that “a possible consequence [of the COVID-19 pandemic] is an acceleration of the end of the era of megalopolises â.
Likewise, Charlie Gillon suggests that the response to COVID-19 has accelerated the transition to remote working arrangements, allowing many to relocate to regional centers.
There are other reasons for leaving cities, including shorter commutes, more affordable housing and a closer connection to nature. Gillon also notes that the factors of remoteness from cities must be supplemented by the attraction of regional areas.
Regional councils seeking to “take advantage of young people on the move” should, in addition to Gillon’s suggestions, consider modern versions of the garden city.
The garden city as a network of villages
Figure 1 illustrates Howard’s proposed autonomous satellite towns with a population of 32,000 on 9,000 acres, connected by road and rail to a major center reflecting the mechanistic thinking of his time.
What could a 21st century garden city look like? The technologies and business models available today allow new settlements to be both more virtually connected, while being more self-sufficient in the physical world, affecting both the design of individual settlements and the organization of a business. network of establishments.
Population centers on the scale proposed by Howard represent major initiatives that should necessarily be managed by a government-owned development corporation.
Instead, a much smaller scale of development is proposed, an enclosure or village for a small community, perhaps only 200 people. Developments of this magnitude can be carried out by a larger cohort of developers and development professionals. Rather than a large population in one location, scale and complexity would be achieved through the organic networking of settlements over a larger area.
A network of villages in a bioregion would still allow significant demographic growth, while retaining the rural landscape character dear to these communities. Such development units would also allow for more gradual development of rural landscapes, allowing communities to determine and manage the scale and timing of growth. The location of facilities could be identified through current growth management and community strategic planning processes.
Circular economy infrastructure at the district level
Recent advances in the production, storage and monitoring of renewable energy could transform the design of individual establishments. An energy micro-grid can pump, clean and circulate water, creating a water micro-grid. Water would be collected, stored and distributed on site. Throughout the water cycle, it would be monitored to manage the quantity, quality and efficiency of distribution.
With more water, it is possible to produce more food, taking urban agriculture to a new level. The energy micro-grid can also supply a fleet of shared electric vehicles. These infrastructure systems could be further integrated for even greater efficiency. Food waste can be used to generate heat and biofuels for energy, water reservoirs can also store energy, passively designed housing can minimize energy demand.
Such an approach adopts the principles of a circular economy – systems thinking, life cycle planning and the pursuit of zero waste – to meet the basic needs of a community. The demand for food, water, energy, shelter, transport and shelter is, in economic terms, relatively inelastic. That is, the demand does not vary substantially with the price. Therefore, if the village population remains constant, the aggregate demand will also remain constant.
Capital infrastructure can be designed to match or exceed demand supply to minimize waste. Not all food can be produced locally, but the more locally produced it is, the less plastic packaging, storage, refrigeration and transport will be required.
Build-to-rent as a preferred development strategy
Circular Economy Villages (CEVs) are best developed as Rental Construction Projects (BTRs) because all shared and integrated infrastructure, including electric vehicles, work centers and other community spaces, would be better managed holistically by a single entity.
No subdivision is required, the design and approval processes are simplified. Phone apps could support community engagement, asset reservation, and site maintenance.
It is therefore timely that the State Government of New South Wales recently announced a 50% reduction in property tax obligations for BTR projects, while a SEPP for housing diversity is being developed. to support the BTR sector.
Mirvac recently opened its first BTR project in NSW at Sydney Olympic Park, funded by a Managed Investment Trust. Such funding models allow for the funding of a pipeline of projects, while future residents could purchase enough units in the trust to offset their rent.
Healthy for people and the planet
VECs offer a range of other benefits for people and the planet. They would provide the three essential strategies for healthy urban planning – connection to fresh food, connection to community and a pedestrian environment.
By managing water systems and improving soil health for food production, daily economic activities would have a positive impact on local ecosystems. Positive impact development is called regenerative development and has parallels with regenerative agriculture.
The transition from industrial agriculture to regenerative agriculture is seen as essential for improving our vast rural landscapes to reduce the impacts of food, droughts and bushfires.
However, regenerative agriculture is necessarily more labor intensive and will therefore require more housing for agricultural workers. In addition to pulling people out of the cities, rural councils could potentially promote VECs as housing for regenerative farmers to facilitate this transition.
The first circular economy village is not far away
In a journal article published in 2019: “Implementing a new human Settlement theory: Strategic planning for a network of regenerative villages”, the author provides a more detailed rationale for the CEV development model and also presents a suggested strategic planning process. to enable the development of CEVs.
With projects such as The Cape (Cape Paterson, Victoria) and Lochiel Park (Adelaide) demonstrating many of the principles described here, it is likely that the first CEV is not far off.
This article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of New Planner – the journal of the planning profession of New South Wales – published by the Planning Institute of Australia.