Ahead of the UDIA National Congress in Perth on 27-29 March, we spoke with Andrew Miller, one of our international keynote speakers about his topic Climate Change, Mobility & the Future of City Building’.

Andrew Miller is Senior Leader, Urban Solutions with Hatch Canada.  He a city-builder, urbanist, and futurist specializing in mobility and transportation planning. He has a twenty-year career that spans government at the provincial and municipal levels, as well as private-sector advisory.

His topic is sure to draw a high number of the urban development industry here in Australia to hear his views.  In our interview, he said one of the key points he wants to make is that we are getting better at coming up with solutions to climate change.

The science has been known for a long time, what has changed is a wide-spread understanding of that science. The public is becoming more sophisticated –  climate change is real and they are aware of the facts.

What questions are people not talking about?

I generally hear two approaches to the problem of climate change:  Firstly, they assume that what we need to do solve this problem is technical, the right technologies, hardware, software.

The second approach is the environmentalist view, that what really matters is your personal carbon footprint – i.e., if you made better choices, we could solve this problem and the fact that you haven’t made good choices, means that you are now bearing the climate burden.

What we really need to do is talk about the third approach which is in politics – we as a society need to make better choices, through government and laws, we need better policies.

What is your favourite statistic on your topic?

My favourite statistic is in a chart that shows the improvement we have made in green energy – the Falling Cost of Renewable Energy over the past 15 years from 2010 where the price per megawatt hour of electricity by solar photovoltaic was $378 –coming down to a cost of $68.

Over those years, the combination of technical material scientists working to figure out how to build a better solar panel, combined with policy, mostly Germany and China investing heavily in the production of solar panels, which has created a situation where we can now make solar panels cheaper – this was the result of scientists applying their intellect to the issue of climate change

If there was one message or key theme for delegates at the Congress what would it be?

  1. Climate change is a real problem;
  2. A big part of the solution now lies in building better cities, better housing in cities, more density close to transport;
  3. Business as usual won’t work for a lot of reasons, a combination of interest rates, zoning laws, covid hangover – many more reasons – but just doing what we have done before in Australia, will not achieve the results we need with climate change.

What will work is a combination of:

  • New technologies like modular construction to bring costs down;
  • Use of wood as a carbon sink rather than using concrete and steel which are carbon emitters;
  • Zoning change to allow building of the sort that we need;

What Australia already does well and needs to show the rest of the world how it is done, is through the following:

  • Making sure that you can build really densely around Higher Order Transit;
  • The city of the future, if you could see it in profile, would be spikes of really tall buildings all within 300-500 metres of high order transit, whether subways, light rail or busways,  but that is the future and we need the technology to build those things.
  • We need the rules in place – one thing I would do is just change the zoning rules so that if your piece of land is within 300-500 metres of a major transit station, as long as it is safely built, build it high as you can. Cities need tall buildings.

The right combination of technology and policy can give us these nodes but they won’t be for everyone. But if you don’t want that, by all means go live in a smaller city.  But this is what cities need and that is what people want and the evidence of this is housing prices. Sydney housing prices are off the charts and the reason is that supply is completely out of step with demand.

It’s a global problem, the cities that we love, the cities where people want to be, are not building supply sufficient to meet demand.  We need to do that to keep our cities wealthy, to generate wealth to tackle climate change, we want people to live in cities because we are more efficient when we are living densely.  But what it comes down to is existing homeowners not liking change, that’s the problem… and the audience of UDIA, the land developers, the local governments and state governments, the people in charge of who gets to build what and how… are the ones that need to know this is what we have to do and we need to do this urgently.

UDIA National Congress is on from 27 – 29 March in Perth. More information here.