Australian cities are fortunate in having an abundance of natural beauty, biodiversity and natural areas within their regions, but they face considerable environmental challenges in maintaining environmental quality and the integrity of those natural areas while planning for growth. These dilemmas are perhaps typified by the pressure of development on available land in the Sydney Basin and the critical water supply problems facing at least Perth, Adelaide and Sydney.
The community plays a key role in demand for, and use of, both space and resources. Quality of life and amenity issues means the community also demands quality in environmental parameters: clean beaches for swimming, high quality drinking water, good air quality, clean attractive harbours and rivers for boating, weed-free bushland reserves for walking, rubbish-free public places, threatened species conserved and more. Along with this goes a call for less development and its perceived consequences of crowding, ever-greater areas of high-rise apartments and increased traffic.
What role can community education and reorientation of policy framing to incorporate community engagement play in ameliorating the impacts of increased population and development and in working towards the goal of sustainable cities with high quality environmental characteristics? This paper outlines the range of tools available to effectively engage the community in issues of sustainability and environmental quality, using some examples from NSW, for example in reducing stormwater pollution, reducing litter in public places and encouraging sustainable living. It also highlights the need to integrate social research and community education more effectively into the activities of agencies and organisations at both state and local government level.