Sustainability and Housing

While it is important not to overstate the relationships between housing, the built environment and impacts on personal behaviour and well-being, these concepts appear to align within overarching concepts of sustainability and urban form. As noted in Chap. 1, a compact, high-density and mixed-use urban form has become a normative planning objective in many cities throughout the world, due to perceived environmental, efficiency, economic and social benefits. However, these benefits are not uncontested. While higher-density housing within the existing urban footprint might reduce the call on undeveloped farmlands or forest, some contend that overall biodiversity can be increased through urban and suburban gardens (Gleeson 2008). Suburban homes and gardens are also thought to reduce heat island effects and stormwater issues arising from impervious surfaces, while also offering opportunities for decentralised infrastructure (solar, water and waste services), and local food production (Hamin and Gurran 2008).

Environmentally sustainable housing can thus be considered in relation to metropolitan level urban form (the location and scale of housing in relation to employment, services and transport, and implications for car dependency), as well as neighbourhood and dwelling design. In relation to individual dwellings, there is an increasing shift in some nations to reduce the carbon impact of new homes and apartments, through designs which maximise solar amenity and thermal comfort, and incorporate lower energy appliances.

Affordability and environmental sustainability are sometimes considered to be competing objectives for housing. This is not necessarily so, particularly when long-term affordability is taken into account. Many of the approaches that represent environmentally sustainable design, such as careful site planning and building orientation, do not in themselves add to housing costs. Other measures, while contributing to upfront costs, can result in long-term savings in, for example, heating or water consumption, or commuting costs.

 
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