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High Christchurch car numbers hurt green prospects

High Christchurch car numbers hurt green prospects

Christchurch needs to address how many cars are on its roads if it wants to become a green city, a visiting expert at Lincoln University says.

Dr Sergi Nuss Girona recently gained his PhD on low-carbon urban development, studying six green cities around the world, and has just completed five months at Lincoln working on a project about active transport (walking and cycling) in Christchurch.

He says Christchurch has 654 registered cars/vans for every 1000 inhabitants, whereas cities he studied with green credentials, such as Bologna (Italy) and Turku (Finland), both engaged in low-carbon development since the beginning of the 90s, are at 528 and 459 respectively.

Even more telling is the use of public transport— in Bologna and Turku it makes up 25 per cent and 17 per cent of their mobility, while in Christchurch it is only 3 per cent.

“This is too big a difference from a sustainability, climate action and long-term resilience point of view,” Dr Girona says.

The main target when becoming green is reducing the use of the private vehicle, and this means to design a city in which other mobility options have the same level of hierarchy of cars, if not more, he says.

He says research from the London School of Economics affirms that a city enters the green city approach when, in spite of high quality of life and a thriving economy, it is able to attain and maintain a low level car of ownership.

“Urban form is the cornerstone to this change (to a green city). Densification, mixed uses, public and socialising spaces, pedestrianisation and transit-oriented planning, and growing in a way which reinforces corridors for non-motorised modes and public services needs to be important in the planning system.”

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He says there needs to be a brake applied to sprawl, at local and regional scale, as it is an ongoing threat in most cities.

“It increases road traffic, commuting time, social dispersion and leads to inefficiency of the whole energy system.

“My home town of Girona has 100,000 inhabitants in 12.65 square kilometres of developed land; Christchurch with a population of 362,000 expands into 607 square kilometres, 48 times the urban area of Girona for 3.6 times the amount of people.

“Can you imagine how much taxpayer money it requires in either place to maintain streets, water and sewage network, waste collection and public transport services, parks and street keep-up? And, in turn, how much money is available for other city needs? Of course, it is a significant effort for any city to go green, but in the long-run it is a more economical and efficient way to sustain urban quality.”

He cites another big factor in becoming green as energy usage from buildings.

“It is widely accepted that without thresholds on electricity use in both residential and commercial buildings, builders and owners will tend to choose the cheaper and less efficient option, despite in the long-term it will be more expensive and unsustainable.”

Transport and building energy together account for 70 per cent (and up to 90 per cent in some cases) of greenhouse gas emissions in cities, he says.

“Hence, energy performance in these two areas of urban management will make a great difference in the city's carbon footprint, and in the city's adaptability to a future with less access to cheap energy, in particular fossil fuels.

“The great challenge is that both efficient buildings and transportation depend on community engagement. They require the citizenship and economic stakeholders to adopt new patterns of urban lifestyle.”

He says there are a lot of advantages in becoming a green city.

In terms of liveability, these cities are less polluted, less noisy, with fewer accidents and are more equitable — particularly in terms of access to places, services and appropriate housing — for all types of population, regardless of age, income or physical capacities.

Green cities are also more attractive to clean-tech industries, business and tourism, by fostering innovative technologies and a well performing urban environment, in both aesthetic and functional terms.

“Last but not least, green cities are more adapted and resilient against the impacts of climate change, natural hazards, energy scarcity and economic crises, given form and material and energy flows are smaller in magnitude and less dependent on external supplies,” Dr Girona adds.


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