How can Urban Planning help prevent bushfires?
Bushfires pose unprecedented challenges for Australian cities and towns. Climate change and continuing urban sprawl see more and more Australians impacted by increasingly catastrophic fires. The frequency of bushfires is higher in the urban fringe areas, with about 40% of maliciously lit fires linked to youth.
These suburbs often suffer from a lack of infrastructure – services, transport and jobs. The outcome are social problems such as high youth unemployment, early school leaving and an inability for youth to travel to and from work and recreation. What role does urban planning have to play in breaking up this combination of climate, geographical and social factors?
Associate Professor Janet Stanley is a Principal Research Fellow - Urban Social Resilience at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI). She focuses on the interface between social, environmental and economic issues in climate change and sustainability, across policy, system design, and at community levels. In conversation with Professor Brendan Gleeson, Director of MSSI and a specialist in urban, social and environmental planning and policy, Janet will discuss her research and findings into how urban planning can help prevent further bushfires.
Janet Stanley spoke of the need for forward planning to prevent, eg. piling up of rubbish; leaving of old vehicles; in periurban areas. Her research area clearly incorporates a focus on arson, and she spoke compellingly about the need for involvement from a wide range of group members including police,and urban planners, in working to prevent arson, especially with children and young people. She also spoke earnestly about the need for environmentalists to be part of any community response, with 'Gippsland Arson Prevention Association' a lighthouse example which she felt could be replicated elsewhere.
Last summer a number of fires began close to Benalla - with one, for example, near the golf course, starting when a car with a trailer swerved and became disconnected from the vehicle towing it, igniting a small fire which got away. There are of course preventative approaches to eg. fires caused by farm machinery in rural areas, especially during periods of increasing fire risk, but Janet's work focuses more on urban areas, particularly urban fringe areas. For me, this is a hot topic, as I have two gum trees I'm particularly fond of on my property in town. With increasing risk of bushrfires with climate change, worry that they may form a conduit for across town spread of bushfires. While this wasn't covered in her talk, it did raise issues for me to think about.