Page 9 - Final Report-8 NO TRANSPARENCY

Basic HTML Version

Resilient urban systems:
a socio-technical study of community scale climate change adaptation initiatives
Changes in social values and an increased focus on demand management are helping to re-define
infrastructure systems with a shift away from the traditional ‘one-way’ relationship between service providers
and end-users. Increasingly, people are experimenting and identifying as small-scale producers. This
form of social innovation is not unique to the energy and water sectors and mirrors a wider shift towards
public participation in, and control or co-management of, what used to be industry or corporate domains.
In contrast to traditional models of provider-user relationships, where user consumption is seen to be a
function of regulated information, prices and incentives, de-centralised energy and water systems often
involve users playing a role in co-production and co-management. This is encouraged through greater
interactions between environmental agencies, competing water and energy utilities and civil society as
co-participants in decision-making (Sofoulis and Strengers 2010; Brown et al 2009).
Many of these shifts are being anticipated at the State Government level, particularly in reference to water
resources where new principles designed to underpin water reform priorities include:
• Social equity;
• Cities and towns planning to meet their own water needs;
• Engaged and empowered communities;
• Water resource and services valued, managed and used efficiently; and
• Transparent, adaptive and flexible decision-making involving consideration of all options.
(Victorian Government, 2011)
Linking infrastructure design with adaptive capacity
A future in which smaller ‘community-scale’ infrastructures of provision are common would have important
implications for climate change adaptation in Victoria. If more communities become reliant on de-centralised
energy and water systems, individual and household relationships to these systems could be expected to
shift from relatively passive consumption toward more active engagement in system management, with
the development of knowledge and skills that build system resilience and community adaptive capacity. Of
course, not everyone will make that transition immediately, but changes could be expected over time.
Where users can more easily exert influence over the technical, operational, or institutional aspect of
systems of provision, other connections between infrastructure design and community adaptive capacity
are likely to appear. For example, studies have shown that people reliant on localised but grid-connected
energy systems are often more conscious of how and when they use electricity, and have a lower energy
use compared to people solely reliant on the mains grid (ATA, 2007). Notwithstanding the effect of self-
selection, this has positive implications for delaying infrastructure investment and reducing the frequency of
blackouts. Conversely, a shift to community-scale systems may also require stakeholders to shoulder new
responsibilities for which they are not prepared. For example households may be partly or wholly responsible
for technical and operational management of localised infrastructure systems which would require new
forms of support for access to financial, physical or technical expertise. In summary, despite their promise,
it is unclear how community-scale, less-centralised energy and water systems will function over time and
under duress from climate change and other types of disturbance.
As alternative systems emerge in new developments, can they help to increase the resilience of Victorian
communities to climate change and other disturbances, and if so, how? Addressing this question will
assist urban planners, developers and communities understand the risks and advantages that come with a
decision to apply novel solutions to emerging energy and water challenges.