At a glance
For the built environment, resilience refers to the capacity of the built environment to retain or recover its structure, functions and amenity after experiencing shocks.
Historically, Australian cities have coped reasonably well with disaster events such as storms or floods, and disaster management is a key component of urban planning. However, the increased frequency of such events associated with climate change may require additional planning and coordination. Tools such as the Critical Infrastructure Resilience Strategy and the Enhancing Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment roadmap are helping to build this capacity. Climate change will also require additional planning to ensure that the built environment remains resilient in such areas as water supply and quality.
However, our built environments are less resilient to our increasingly urbanised growth and longer-term climate impacts, such as sea level rise. Planning for long-term growth, change and adaptability will be needed to deliver ongoing resilience of our built environments.
Resilience is the capacity of the environment to retain or recover the same structure and functions after experiencing shocks or disturbances. Resilience for the built environment, therefore, means its ability to recover its functions, amenities and livability following shocks. It depends on how vulnerable built assets and community services are to disturbance, and how well management planning and processes can cope with shocks.
Historically, one of the key threats to the structures and amenity of our built environment has been extreme weather events. Australia’s infrastructure has long been exposed to extreme conditions. Although these are devastating in the short term, Australian cities have shown themselves to be fairly resilient to high-impact weather events. Floods, droughts, bushfires, cyclones and high temperatures have influenced the design and operation of our networks, and our resilience strategies tend to focus on disaster events.
Nationally, the government provides comprehensive and nationally consistent exposure information relating to residential, commercial and industrial buildings, public institutions and infrastructure assets through the National Exposure Information System.
However, the increasing frequency of extreme events brought by climate change may require additional planning. Increasing the resilience of built environment assets will become more important for infrastructure providers as extreme weather events become increasingly likely to threaten certain assets (Infrastructure Australia 2015).
A range of codes, standards and rating schemes already exist to ensure that new building stock will be robust to a changing climate. For example, Standards Australia has developed the first Australian Standard to incorporate a systematic approach to planning the adaptation of communities and infrastructure based on a risk-management process.
In 2011, the Enhancing Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment project was undertaken by the Land Use Planning and Building Codes Taskforce, whose objective is to:
- enhance disaster resilience in the built environment by establishing a common understanding of land-use planning and building policies, regulations and codes across Australia
- undertake a gap analysis on the current instruments
- prepare an issues paper that provides a roadmap for key improvements to be implemented.
The Enhancing Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment roadmap sets out the activities required to achieve broader disaster resilience in the built environment. The roadmap focuses on integrating legislation; developing comprehensive data and mapping; and enhancing collaborative vendor disclosure, governance partnerships, lifelong education and training, and interjurisdictional coordination.
The Critical Infrastructure Resilience Strategy (Australian Government 2015c, 2015d) sets out the Australian Government’s approach to ensuring that critical infrastructure is resilient. The Australian Government is also working with states, territories and Austroads to update the National guidelines for transport system management, which will be called the Australian transport assessment and planning guidelines. These guidelines will cover public, road and rail transport, and include appropriate guidance on climate change adaptation for transport planning and project appraisal.
Climate change impacts will also extend across all facets of the urban water cycle, from water supply, and sewage transfer and treatment infrastructure, to river health, drainage and flood management. Integrating stormwater management by using, for example, green roofs, rainwater harvesting and infiltration systems—in combination with traditional conveyance and end-of-pipe infrastructure—allows communities to build resilience into stormwater management for both everyday and extreme events. The sector is taking steps to reduce its exposure to future events; however, there is a need to address climate vulnerability more systematically (IPA & WSAA 2015). Additionally, some of the measures currently being implemented primarily address short-term concerns. Longer-term actions are often perceived as unaffordable or unfeasible because of their complexity, a lack of scientific information relevant to the urban environment, or a lack of coordination with other authorities relating to issues such as resource protection and flooding (IPA & WSAA 2015).
Our built environments are less resilient to our increasingly urbanised growth, and to longer-term climate impacts such as sea level rise. Unlike extreme weather and disaster episodes, these are not single ‘events’ after which infrastructure can be rebuilt and redeveloped. Our current cities are, to some extent, a function of another era, and their design and infrastructure were not planned for the level of urbanisation and population growth, and impacts of climate change they are experiencing.
Australia’s patterns of production, consumption and effective use of technologies, and integrated, coordinated planning and management can mitigate some of these growing pressures to maintain and improve urban efficiency and livability in our built environments. However, as our understanding continues to grow in areas such as the structure and function of our cities, and our physical and mental health and wellbeing (including the value of green space and accessibility to work and services), so too does our understanding that resilience of our cities is dependent on more than just our physical built assets. The resilience of the built environment—in particular, our major cities—to the pressures of accommodating population growth and adequate housing are not considered high.