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Sustainable urban living

With its small population, substantial renewable energy and natural resources, and stunning landscape, New Zealand has a unique opportunity to secure a high quality of life for its people, sustainable for future generations.

However, it will require some bold moves to change existing policy direction, says urban sustainability expert Professor Bob Evans.

One example is our use of cars. “Our cities sprawl and that means people here use their cars far more than they do in more compact cities,” says Professor Evans. “Despite our small population, our cities are not far off gridlock in some places at rush hour.”

Compared with the UK and other countries in Northern Europe, petrol is still relatively cheap in New Zealand, but with 'peak oil' and increasing global demand for oil, that’s unlikely to last. This means we need to re-think how we plan and manage our cities, he says

But it’s not just about buildings and land use. Professor Evans is looking at ways to encourage people to adopt more sustainable and resilient patterns of living, including a dramatic reduction in our consumption of natural resources.

One project, in collaboration with the Nelson-based Cawthron Institute, is examining how local social networks and institutions can provide the ‘soft infrastructure’ to support sustainability. The project is being carried out with the cooperation of the local governments in the top of the South Island.

Professor Evans has also researched civic engagement in renewable energy developments in the UK. That project focused on offshore wind, tidal energy and biomass developments, and concluded that greater and earlier citizen and interest organisation involvement in the development and location of these technologies usually results in greater acceptance of such developments.