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Melbourne’s Eco-city: Working for a Sustainable Future

The Earth Summit brings together nations large and small, developed and developing. But in numerous ways its theme of sustainable development is as much about the future of the world’s mega-cities as nation states.

Melbourne is supposed to be one of the world’s most liveable cities but it will have to work hard to make sure it has a truly sustainable future:

CLOGGED roads, crowded public transport and unaffordable housing are threatening Melbourne’s liveability as its growth outstrips the rest of Australia, experts warn. – Karen Collier, Herald Sun

Thanks to Australian online democracy website Our Say, five of us met with Melbourne City councillor Cathy Oke before her upcoming trip to Rio+20 to represent the council at the Earth Summit. Cathy is a rep at ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, which is involved in pre-summit with the World Congress 2012 in Brazil, followed by the Rio+20 Global Town Hall that runs in parallel with it.

The meeting was one of the latest initiatives regarding Eco-city projects in Melbourne. The city’s planning for a greener future dates back to the 1990s. It adopted its Zero Net Emissions by 2020 strategy in 2003. The following video has excerpts from our one hour-long conversation at Melbourne’s historic Town Hall.

The other four questioners brought a wide range of interests and backgrounds:

Shelley Meagher of Do it on the Roof wanted public access to the green roofs of the central business district. Below is the winner of the 2009 Growingup prize for green roofs which has now been built. It seems an expensive exercise but Growingup dispute this. Learn more by clicking the image:

131 Queen Street

131 Queen Street rooftop by Bent Architecture. Image: Dianna Snape

Geoff Pain argued against fluoridation of water because of its toxicity. He was particularly concerned with its effects on reclamation of phosphorous, an essential part of life.

Rob Turk, sustainability leader in the Victorian office of Arup, was interested in the effects that the 1992 Rio Summit may have had for Melbourne’s development over the past 20 years.

Secondary teacher Glenn Dalton presented a question about poor urban planning and rapid urbanisation from his students at Luther College. They suggested the development of criteria to measure sustainability to raise awareness and promote positive change.

Melbourne City Council covers the city’s central business district and some inner suburbs. Cathy leads its Eco-city project. Melbourne City Council’s initiative covers only a fraction of greater Melbourne, which has many other local government areas. In my own area we have been waiting for a detailed climate change strategy from Bayside City Council for ages. It was finally released in May 2012.

There are many local projects supported by Melbourne City Council in addition to the green roofs:

Local suburb Carlton has its own eco-neighbourhood. They are looking at ways that residents, whether they be owners or renters, can retrofit their houses and how small businesses can embrace sustainable business practices. The introduction of carbon pricing in Australia on 1 July 2012 should be a spur for this kind of changes.

You can green your laneway, as Sustainable Melbourne reports. This may be a cheaper and more practical option in many mega-cities in the developing world.

The CH2 building is one of the Melbourne City Council’s proudest achievements. Image Courtesy: Melbourne City Council

The CH2 building is one of the MCC’s proudest achievements. Council House 2 was completed in 2006 to accommodate the Council’s staff. You can take a virtual tour by clicking the link.

Another local eco-friendly building is Pixel – the carbon-neutral office building. Ironically, this award-winning building was recently voted in the top 10 of the world’s ugliest buildings. Beauty is in the eye of the judges. Take a look for yourself. Pixel is certainly a lighthouse for green architecture.


Cathy has been selected as the Greens candidate for a State parliament by-election in the seat of Melbourne on 21 July. This has interfered with her Rio plans and someone else will be taking her place.

Politics can be an unforgiving business. She will be up against the Australian Labor Party’s Jennifer Kanis, a fellow councillor. It’s great to see two progressive women working for issues such as a clean energy future and indigenous reconciliation. Let’s hope that the non-partisan goodwill displayed in the following video continues to flourish at both at the council level and on the campaign trail.

You can follow their activity and campaigning on twitter:
Jennifer Kanis @JenniferKanis
Cathy Oke @cathyoke

The eco-city movement, for want of a better word, has a long way to go before it can really have an impact on sustainability, especially in our mega-cities. What will a true eco-city look like in 2050? What’s your mega-city doing for a sustainable future? Can cities like Melbourne in developed countries be useful models for those in the developing world? Please let us know your experiences and ideas through comments below.

(Please note: I have been a member of the Australian Labor Party for 40 years.)

Featured image credit: Melbourne City Council

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About The Author(s)

Kevin Rennie

Citizen Journalist

Kevin is a citizen journalist and blogger. He has been active with Th!nk About It and is a Global Voices Online author. He is a retired secondary teacher and trade unionist and has been an Australian Labor Party member since 1972. His interests include the environment, current affairs and the media, politics and human rights. Kevin also blogs about cinema and Australian women writers.

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