Are High-Rises a Sustainable Future?

May 31st, 2013

The city of Shanghai is home to nearly the entire population of Australia – 19.21 million people packed into vertical structures that reach into the smog. Is this the future of all cities, wondered Lynne Blundell of The Fifth Estate.

With urbanisation taking off around the world, urban planners and governments are seeing high-rises as the answer to their space and population problems. Australia is considering the same tactic and plans to increase density around transport nodes.

However, high rises may not be the most sustainable answer. Vertical buildings use a lot of energy and materials, and can negatively affect the people that live and work in them.

Tony Arnel, the chair of the Green Building Council of Australia and World Green Building council recently expressed that high rise living may be no more sustainable than choosing a suburban house. He said that an Allen Consulting report showed no conclusive evidence that high-rise living was more sustainable.

In fact the study, which was conducted for Victorian building Commission, suggested that buildings over three stories high require more energy as proper lighting is required for lifestyle reasons, security, lifts and common areas. Another report showed that high rises used 30% more energy than single dwellings because of car park, foyer and other common area lighting needs.

When it comes to carbon emissions, smaller dwellings come out on top too. A NSW Energy study showed that high rise accommodation created four times as much carbon dioxide as smaller townhouses and three times as much as medium rise dwellings.

However, Sydney Water figures found that single dwellings account for 45.7% of Sydney Water consumption while unit buildings account for only 14.3%.

More sustainable high rises are a possibility if renewable energy sources like solar and wind are embraced to fuel on-site generators. Good design that reduces heating and cooling costs are also part of the solution, as are using recyclable materials in the construction process. Yet a lack of government policy stands in the way.

Deo Prasad of the Centre for Sustainable Built Environments believes that manufacturers and energy companies can’t make the move to more sustainable practices and products until they have certainty from the government. He believes that government policies need to encourage research and development for more sustainable housing.

Source: http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/archives/20345/