A micro-level indexing model for the assessment of sustainable urban ecosystems

Dizdaroglu, Didem (2013) A micro-level indexing model for the assessment of sustainable urban ecosystems. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


During the last several decades, the quality of natural resources and their services have been exposed to significant degradation from increased urban populations combined with the sprawl of settlements, development of transportation networks and industrial activities (Dorsey, 2003; Pauleit et al., 2005). As a result of this environmental degradation, a sustainable framework for urban development is required to provide the resilience of natural resources and ecosystems. Sustainable urban development refers to the management of cities with adequate infrastructure to support the needs of its population for the present and future generations as well as maintain the sustainability of its ecosystems (UNEP/IETC, 2002; Yigitcanlar, 2010). One of the important strategic approaches for planning sustainable cities is „ecological planning‟. Ecological planning is a multi-dimensional concept that aims to preserve biodiversity richness and ecosystem productivity through the sustainable management of natural resources (Barnes et al., 2005). As stated by Baldwin (1985, p.4), ecological planning is the initiation and operation of activities to direct and control the acquisition, transformation, disruption and disposal of resources in a manner capable of sustaining human activities with a minimum disruption of ecosystem processes. Therefore, ecological planning is a powerful method for creating sustainable urban ecosystems.

In order to explore the city as an ecosystem and investigate the interaction between the urban ecosystem and human activities, a holistic urban ecosystem sustainability assessment approach is required. Urban ecosystem sustainability assessment serves as a tool that helps policy and decision-makers in improving their actions towards sustainable urban development. There are several methods used in urban ecosystem sustainability assessment among which sustainability indicators and composite indices are the most commonly used tools for assessing the progress towards sustainable land use and urban management. Currently, a variety of composite indices are available to measure the sustainability at the local, national and international levels. However, the main conclusion drawn from the literature review is that they are too broad to be applied to assess local and micro level sustainability and no benchmark value for most of the indicators exists due to limited data availability and non-comparable data across countries. Mayer (2008, p. 280) advocates that by stating "as different as the indices may seem, many of them incorporate the same underlying data because of the small number of available sustainability datasets". Mori and Christodoulou (2011) also argue that this relative evaluation and comparison brings along biased assessments, as data only exists for some entities, which also means excluding many nations from evaluation and comparison. Thus, there is a need for developing an accurate and comprehensive micro-level urban ecosystem sustainability assessment method. In order to develop such a model, it is practical to adopt an approach that uses a method to utilise indicators for collecting data, designate certain threshold values or ranges, perform a comparative sustainability assessment via indices at the micro-level, and aggregate these assessment findings to the local level. Hereby, through this approach and model, it is possible to produce sufficient and reliable data to enable comparison at the local level, and provide useful results to inform the local planning, conservation and development decision-making process to secure sustainable ecosystems and urban futures. To advance research in this area, this study investigated the environmental impacts of an existing urban context by using a composite index with an aim to identify the interaction between urban ecosystems and human activities in the context of environmental sustainability. In this respect, this study developed a new comprehensive urban ecosystem sustainability assessment tool entitled the „Micro-level Urban-ecosystem Sustainability IndeX‟ (MUSIX). The MUSIX model is an indicator-based indexing model that investigates the factors affecting urban sustainability in a local context. The model outputs provide local and micro-level sustainability reporting guidance to help policy-making concerning environmental issues.

A multi-method research approach, which is based on both quantitative analysis and qualitative analysis, was employed in the construction of the MUSIX model. First, a qualitative research was conducted through an interpretive and critical literature review in developing a theoretical framework and indicator selection. Afterwards, a quantitative research was conducted through statistical and spatial analyses in data collection, processing and model application. The MUSIX model was tested in four pilot study sites selected from the Gold Coast City, Queensland, Australia. The model results detected the sustainability performance of current urban settings referring to six main issues of urban development: (1) hydrology, (2) ecology, (3) pollution, (4) location, (5) design, and; (6) efficiency. For each category, a set of core indicators was assigned which are intended to: (1) benchmark the current situation, strengths and weaknesses, (2) evaluate the efficiency of implemented plans, and; (3) measure the progress towards sustainable development. While the indicator set of the model provided specific information about the environmental impacts in the area at the parcel scale, the composite index score provided general information about the sustainability of the area at the neighbourhood scale. Finally, in light of the model findings, integrated ecological planning strategies were developed to guide the preparation and assessment of development and local area plans in conjunction with the Gold Coast Planning Scheme, which establishes regulatory provisions to achieve ecological sustainability through the formulation of place codes, development codes, constraint codes and other assessment criteria that provide guidance for best practice development solutions. These relevant strategies can be summarised as follows:

• Establishing hydrological conservation through sustainable stormwater management in order to preserve the Earth’s water cycle and aquatic ecosystems;

• Providing ecological conservation through sustainable ecosystem management in order to protect biological diversity and maintain the integrity of natural ecosystems;

• Improving environmental quality through developing pollution prevention regulations and policies in order to promote high quality water resources, clean air and enhanced ecosystem health;

• Creating sustainable mobility and accessibility through designing better local services and walkable neighbourhoods in order to promote safe environments and healthy communities;

• Sustainable design of urban environment through climate responsive design in order to increase the efficient use of solar energy to provide thermal comfort, and;

• Use of renewable resources through creating efficient communities in order to provide long-term management of natural resources for the sustainability of future generations.

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ID Code: 61864
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Yigitcanlar, Tan & Dawes, Les
Additional Information: Recipient of 2013 Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award.
Keywords: indexing model, micro-level analysis, sustainability assessment, sustainable urban development, urban ecosystem, urban sustainability, ODTA
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Civil Engineering & Built Environment
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 16 Aug 2013 02:38
Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015 02:50

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