Using design to build resilience in bushfire-prone areas

2 minute read

Emergency services attend to bushfire approaching a suburban house at night

Bushfire planning and building controls improve how structures perform in fire conditions.

Researchers have developed nine principles for urban design and planning to reduce risk and improve the resilience of communities in bushfire-prone areas.


Read the abstract


Urban planning and design can reduce Australia’s vulnerability to catastrophic bushfires, according to work by Professor Alan March and Constanza Gonzalez-Mathiesena from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning.

More bushfires (also known as wildfires) are occurring around the world each year. Their economic impact will increase, and more people will be affected.

To examine the potential for urban planning to improve risk management and the resilience of communities, the research team interviewed experts and studied land-use planning policies from countries prone to severe bushfires. This included the USA, France, Spain and Australia.

The team studied policy, guidelines and planning at the government, suburb and site levels. For example, they found builders minimise risk by building houses and infrastructure that do not easily catch fire. Land-use planners minimise risk by determining safer locations for new suburbs. They also ensure that suburbs are designed to help people safely evacuate and to allow emergency services to find water and access properties.

Based on this research, the team developed nine design and planning principles for bushfire-prone areas.

To help communities avoid or minimise risk:

  • ensure design and planning consider how fire responds to different environments and weather
  • build houses away from potential fire sources, such as forested areas
  • manage vegetation and other fuel sources
  • control building density to minimise the spread of fire and to avoid isolated properties
  • zone land appropriately to its bushfire risk.

To help communities and emergency services adapt and respond during a crisis:

  • plan the number, size and location of emergency services needed to reach the community quickly
  • design roads that allow efficient emergency response and evacuation
  • ensure sufficient water sources for firefighting, for individuals and emergency services
  • ensure that people understand their options for evacuating, finding refuge or defending their properties.

Next steps

The researchers are now looking at how urban planners can improve their understanding of building codes and associated development to enhance resilience.

This work is part of a larger body of research on bushfires preparedness and prevention led by Professor March and Associate Professor Janet Stanley at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne.

Publication

Gonzalez-Mathiesen C, March A (2018) Establishing design principles for wildfire resilient urban planning. Planning Practice & Research 33(2): 97-119. doi: 10.1080/02697459.2018.1429787

Image: HighExposure/Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Share this research

Please use the text of this article for your own purposes. The text is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 International license. This lets you copy, transform and share the text without restriction. We appreciate appropriate credit and links back to this website. Other content on this page (such as images, videos and logos) is not covered by the CC BY license and may not be used without permission from the copyright holder. If you have any questions about using this text, please contact the Web Team.

Related items