Creating Sustainable Urban Subdivisions Applying Ecologically Sustainable Development Principles

By Victoria Tester

Supervised by Mr. M.B.S. Green





For an urban subdivision to become sustainable it must take the Ecologically Sustainable Principles into consideration throughout the planning process. Often it is surveyors and planners who have some of the strongest influence when designing subdivisions and it is their duty to influence developers into creating subdivisions that are not only economically viable, but also ecologically sustainable.

 Currently we are a very unsustainable nation; therefore all facets that involve the liveability of a subdivision, such as energy, water, wastewater, transport and landscape must be incorporated into a more holistic planning paradigm. Some of these are likely to be located externally from the subdivision. Most energy sources are not likely to be located within the subdivision, but decisions can still be made to use green energy such as wind energy to supply homes and other infrastructure within the subdivision. These can be used in conjunction with individual energy supply technology such as photovoltaic cells.         

Technology is now such that many of the other facets may now be incorporated within the overall design such as water provision from recycling of rain, storm and wastewater. Other facets such as transport although again requiring some outside input, also can be incorporated within the plan.

Australia is making many advances towards becoming a more sustainable nation and this is evident in looking at various national legislations and policies. Admittedly though, many of these do not go far enough, are poorly managed and under funded. Even so it is all a step in the right direction.

 It is evident that more developers and surveyors are taking into consideration Ecologically Sustainable Principles when creating new subdivisions, and our general society is slowly changing their thinking shown by the rapidly increasing acquirement of rainwater tanks, solar hot water systems, photovoltaic cells and the desire to be supplied with ‘green energy’ rapidly.

Ultimately Australia does not have a choice, if we are to survive as a nation we must become more sustainable. As a body of individuals, surveyors have a lot of influence in helping to achieve sustainability within Australia. Sustainable subdivisions are definitely not the full answer to achieving nation wide sustainability but they are definitely a significant portion of the solution.



Olympic Village, Newington


Australia has more than enough renewable energy resources to supply our energy needs. Currently wind, solar and geothermal power look to be our most promising sources of renewable energy and as such our government should be putting more funding into renewable energy research and development rather than decreasing already limited funding.

 It is a fact that Australia currently has vast quantities of fossil fuels still available to us but we must start looking at the energy situation as a whole picture rather than looking at each factor individually. We may have vast quantities of fossil fuels, but as a result we also have vast quantities of greenhouse gas emissions. Our nation has said that we agree with the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development (within the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development) and as such these principles must be taken into full consideration with every decision our nation makes. The use of fossil fuels is not compliant with these principles.

 The technology for the use of renewable energy sources is available, it just requires more research and development to make it completely economically viable. Through developments such as The Olympic Village, Newington, it is evident that the use of renewable energy sources on a large scale is economically feasible. Subdivisions such as this one prove that the use of such technology is possible while still creating a fully functional and economically viable development. The fact also remains that the technology such as photovoltaic cells and solar hot water systems, used in The Olympic Village is not only for use in new subdivisions, but also can easily be incorporated into existing dwellings.

 One quarter of all electricity plants will be defunct within the next 15 years, therefore why not replace them with renewable energy plants rather than more electricity plants run by fossil fuels. New plants will need to be built anyway and renewable energy plants can plug into the existing grid exactly the same as non-renewable energy plants. Transferring to renewable energy sources is not an option. It is a necessity for sustainability to be achieved and for life to continue at the same standard and quality in the future.

Water and Wastewater

Australia has no valid excuse not to become more sustainable concerning water usage and management. Technology and management concepts are available or will be available in the next few years and already, in many cases, the technology and management concepts are already economically viable options.

 For our society to become sustainable all new subdivisions and redevelopments must now take recycling and Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) into consideration. Current water design concepts are out of date and completely unsustainable. We must start to work with the land’s natural drainage cycles. Not only does this ultimately benefit the environment, but also the benefits become economic when you consider the damage of the environment that will no longer have to be rectified. 

To obtain sustainability in water usage, education will be a big factor, especially with the increased introduction of water recycling. Many people have false perceptions about safety of consumption and use of recycled and rain water. If these false perceptions continue it will be more difficult to introduce sustainable changes.

Water recycling, especially the use of rain tanks can be incorporated easily on an individual basis into existing dwellings. Unfortunately the incorporation of recycled water on a larger scale is not quite so simple due to the necessity of a dual reticulation pipe system and it is not likely that the government is willing to put up vast amounts of capital for this infrastructure to be put into place. Regardless of this even just the use of rainwater tanks to supply another source of water would result in a vast decrease in the potable water being required by each house from the mains.


Creating a sustainable transport system will involve a combination of improving our current public transport system so that current suburbs have the option not to be so car dependent, and creating subdivisions that are planned to influence the use of public transport, cycling and walking over car transport. To improve public transport the biggest issue is equalising the spending on public transport with that on roads. People are not likely to change from car travel to public transport travel unless it is reliable, accessible and affordable.

 Creating a better public transport system is not just a case of extending public transport to meet new developments, but also involves broadening the system to meet the needs of existing development. Many current suburbs are not located in a close vicinity to a train or tram station and have poor bus services. They are dependent upon their car for any travel.

 In creating subdivisions that are less auto-dependent a focus must also be taken on making them more pedestrian and cyclist friendly. Footpaths and cycle ways must be incorporated into designs and used as connectors between infrastructure such as schools and playgrounds.

 Urban design has not been the complete cause of us becoming an auto-dependent nation, but good and successful urban design can definitely be incorporated into helping our nation to become more reliant on more sustainable forms of transport.


To create sustainable landscapes is a case of learning to create landscapes that become part of the current existing ecosystems. In new developments this involves the planting of indigenous plant species that were already located on the land before development began, to try and maintain the existing ecosystems. In existing developments the destruction of the landscape that has already occurred over many decades is not easy to rectify, but the re-planting of native species that were likely to have naturally occurred in the area is definitely a step towards trying to regenerate the ecosystem and to produce a more natural and sustainable landscape.


It is clear that for Australia to become a sustainable nation there are many issues that need to be addressed. Creating sustainable subdivisions and making our residential environments as ecologically friendly as possible is not the whole answer, but definitely is a large part of the solution.



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Wind Turbines

Creating sustainable subdivisions and making our residential environments as ecologically friendly as possible is not the whole answer, but definitely is a large part of the solution.


Solar Street Light





3. Domestic Use Rainwater Tank






4. Water Sensitive Urban Design







6. Cairnlea Parks, Victoria