It is predicted that within the next 15 years, 12 to 14 million people will move to cities in South Africa* — an amount almost equivalent to the size of the entire population of Gauteng. Considering South African cities’ infrastructure and municipal services are already under pressure in many areas, from overcrowding and all the challenges that come with it, the question remains: how will we accommodate our new neighbours? We will need to reimagine the collective space and create sustainable precincts.
What are sustainable precincts?
In the wake of climate change, health concerns and growing urban populations, it’s clear that cities and precincts can no longer be built as they were. Sustainable precincts are a response to this, by taking the principles of green building and channelling them on a larger scale.
Sustainable precincts provide opportunities for greater connectivity, leading to greater sustainability, innovation, and economic and social outcomes. They create spaces that are integrated, use energy sources that are renewable, acquire sustainable water and food supplies, and deliver solutions to multiple complex needs for the betterment of the community and economy.
Benefits of sustainable precincts
When a sustainable precinct is built according to best practices, it offers residents, workers, and other stakeholders a number of advantages.
Accessibility is at the heart of sustainable precincts, encouraging walkable spaces and alternative transportation like cycling. Thus, people walking and cycling take priority over vehicles. These precincts include shops, services, and recreational spaces to reduce the need for long commutes. These kinds of activities also promote human health.
Carbon neutrality or net zero is another focus of sustainable precincts. Instead of relying primarily on municipal electricity provision, sustainable precincts can better cope with load shedding by using alternative renewable energy sources.
Using integrated systems involving water-sensitive urban design, rainwater harvesting, and water recycling, sustainable precincts are more resilient in the face of drought.
Circular economy principles are paramount in sustainable precincts. Waste output managed on a precinct scale, is far more efficient than on an individual building scale. This creates opportunities to not only manage waste more efficiently, but to use it to generate energy for electricity or for it to be used as fertiliser in food production.
How sustainable precincts are rated
Rating systems create credibility by ensuring that all precincts meet the same criteria and uphold a strict standard of quality. In South Africa, the GBCSA rates and assesses the sustainability performance of precincts and neighbourhoods using the Sustainable Precincts tool. The tool rates the planning, design, and construction of the precinct, as opposed to that of specific buildings or their operations.
The Sustainable Precincts tool considers these key categories when rating a sustainable precinct:
- Governance: This category awards points if the project’s urban design is subject to a design review process, demonstrates corporate responsibility, engages the community, engages in environmental management, and undertakes sustainability awareness. It also recognises projects that are resilient to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.
- Liveability: This category encourages healthy and active living and awards points if the project implements community development projects, provides access to fresh food, has walkable access to amenities and is designed for safety.
- Economic Prosperity: This category promotes affordability, community investment, return on investment and digital infrastructure. Points are awarded if the project delivers education and skills development programmes, puts residential affordability strategies in place, stimulates local and diverse employment opportunities, and reduces peak electricity demand.
- Environment: The aim of this category is to encourage the use of bioclimatic building material, waste management, and provide for sustainable transport and movement. This category awards points if the project has best practice sustainable urban water management and integrated water cycling, minimises the environmental impacts of construction materials for the site-wide works, enhances the ecological value or biodiversity of the project site, as well as if it reduces light pollution and the heat island effect that many older developments neglected to account for. It also seeks to ensure that a greenhouse gas strategy is in place to address climate change.
How affordable are sustainable precincts?
With such particular criteria, investors and developers may be under the specific impression that it can cost an exorbitant amount to create a sustainable precinct. This is not necessarily the case at all.
The rating tool offers credit for sustainable buildings within the precinct that are certified using the Green Star tools, and recent studies by the GBCSA, the University of Pretoria, and the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors found that the average green cost premium for a 4-Star Green Star rated building has reduced from 5,2% in 2016 to 3,9% in 2019. The average green cost premium is largely dependent on the certification level, with the highest average premium of 10,2% reported for a 6-Star Green Star rating.
And while it can sometimes be slightly more expensive to construct green buildings and precincts, the financial value of the green buildings within those precincts has reportedly increased up to 18% due to higher demand, lower operating costs, and generally better buildings. Green buildings also tend to retain their property value compared to counterparts – an important factor during challenging economic times.
In a future where our city spaces are changing form and our country’s economic future is uncertain, sustainable precincts offer the surety of spaces that are not only people-centred and community-oriented, but are also built to survive and thrive.
Nexxagen aims to develop healthier and more productive spaces for people, and to make a positive contribution to the communities in which we live and work. Nexxagen is led by Dean Young who holds a BSc in Property Development, a MSc in Property Studies and is a qualified CA(SA) with 20 years’ work experience. Dean is a passionate member of the GBCSA and the South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA), as well as a certified Green Star New Building AP and Green Star Sustainable Precincts AP.
*According to research conducted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).