Ecoburbia: An Experiment In Urban Living

When Shani Graham and Tim Darby learned about peak oil and climate change, their first instincts were to leg it to the country. ‘I was keen to stay in the city, although I couldn’t see how we could make that happen,’ recalls Shani.

After much consideration, instead of fleeing the problem, they decided to channel their energies into running sustainability business ventures in urban settings. Tim and Shani set up an environmentally friendly B&B called the Painted Fish on Hulbert Street in South Fremantle. Soon after, they purchased a property down the street, retrofitting it to incorporate solar passive principles, making it more sustainable. They then began running Living Smart courses, behaviour change programs aimed at educating people to reduce their environmental impact.

Inspired by what they’d learned on Hulbert Street, as well as by David Holmgren’s work on retrofitting the suburbs, Tim and Shani embarked on a new experiment. They decided to reconfigure an existing building to significantly increase the density without increasing the built footprint. ‘I get really frustrated whenever I see large suburban blocks being subdivided into smaller blocks, creating more overbuilt houses, more separation and isolation, and replication of seldom-used resources (such as laundries),’ says Tim. ‘Most often infill is a bitter pill that compromises the social and structural amenity as it increases density.