Conference paper
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Recent scholarship has conceptualised initiatives at the grassroots level as niche sites of innovation for sustainable development, comprising a diversity of innovations and sustainable practices that may (or may not) be usefully transferred to mainstream systems (Seyfang & Smith 2007). Sustainable housing communities such as cohousing and eco-villages, based around goals of improved sustainability and community vibrancy, provide examples of such niche, grassroots sites. There is evidence to suggest that residents of these communities are significantly reducing their environmental impact, whilst maintaining strong wellbeing and social capital outcomes. With household consumption contributing significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions (Hertwich & Peters 2009), innovations within these communities that have the potential to influence everyday practice, and the associated resource use, are promising areas for research. Using an Australian cohousing example, this paper explores how an intention to live in a more environmentally sustainable manner is realised. It applies social practice theory to explore the practices, and elements of practice, that residents perceived as significant for their everyday sustainability, and focuses on the role of the cohousing community in the evolution of these practices. The findings from focus groups, one-on-one interviews and ethnographic observations at a cohousing community are discussed. The focus is on the practices and routines that are introduced, encouraged and/or developed to reduce environmental impact. What are the key elements of these practices, and what is the impact of the cohousing community? And what lessons can planners and designers take to create the frameworks for sustainable and liveable communities and precincts?

The papers presented at the 2015 State of Australian Cities National Conference (SOAC 7) were organised into seven broad themes but all shared, to varying degrees, a common focus on the ways in which high quality academic research can be used in the development and implementation of policy. The relationship between empirical evidence and theoretical developments that are presented as part of our scholarly endeavours and policy processes is rarely clear and straightforward. Sometimes, perhaps because of the fortuitous alignment of various factors, our research has a direct and positive impact on policy. Sometimes it takes longer to be noticed and have influence and, sometimes, there is no little or no evidence of impact beyond or even with the academy. And while there are things we can do to promote the existence of our work and to present it in more accessible formats to people we believe to be influential, ultimately the appreciation and application of our work lies in the hands of others.

This paper is one of 164 papers that have each been reviewed and refereed by our peers and revised accordingly. While they each will have been presented briefly at the SOAC conference, they can now be read or re-read at your leisure. We hope they will stimulate further debate and discussion and form a platform for further research.

Adapted from the SOAC 7 conference proceedings introduction by Paul Burton and Heather Shearer

The State of Australian Cities (SOAC) national conferences have been held biennially since 2003 to support interdisciplinary policy-related urban research.

SOAC 7 was held in the City of Gold Coast from 9-11 December 2015. The conference featured leading national and local politicians and policy makers who shared their views on some of the current challenges facing cities and how these might be overcome in the future.

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