Architect Paul Downtown wanted to set an example for sustainable development in his home city of Adelaide, so he turned an old recycling depot on .5 acre of seriously degraded land into an urban oasis with 27 homes. Lush gardens cover the grounds, climb up the walls and go across the rooftop. The development, named Christie Walk, was clear on its objectives from the start: recycled, non-toxic materials were used in construction, power generated from solar panels is used for hot water, storm water is collected for use on the gardens and to flush toilets, buildings are designed for passive heating during the winter and cooling during the summer, and food is produced on-site in the community gardens. Despite all of these achievements, Christie Walk is an affordable housing development built without any supporting funds from the government.
The site is T-shaped, featuring a combination of detached houses, row townhouses and 2 low-rise apartment buildings.
The residents living here produce only a third as much waste as their surrounding neighbours because of their composting system. In the summer heat, green roofs and natural ventilation can keep the temperature inside the buildings 11° C lower than the surrounding area,. The buildings are designed to let cooler air from the gardens flow up through the homes. Similarly, in the winter lows of 6-8° C, the homes are at a more comfortable 16° C due to the use of highly insulating materials.
But sustainability was only one of Paul Downtown's goals. The other was community. The shared outdoor spaces are designed to feel like extensions of the private homes. The pathways narrow and then expand to circular sitting areas that become little informal gathering hubs.
As one resident says, she has 12 neighbours who can babysit her daughter. Not everyone was comfortable with the idea of a close community - some residents came for the environmental aspect - but all have come to appreciate the fun, diversity and support it brings.
With all of its features put together, Christie Walk is an extremely resilient urban ecosystem. As one of its founding members, Cherie Hoyle says, it can be done over and over again, in cities anywhere in the world; what is needed is for developers to take up the challenge that has been put out to them - they can never say they don’t know.
(Photos and ref: Urban Ecology Australia, Pocket Neighborhoods by Ross Chapin, profile on Christie Walk at youtu.be/T4N0XeMadjc)