Towards Fire Resilience in Suburban Morphology

Dr Alan March

Australian settlements have a long history of interactions with the natural processes of bushfire.

However, fires are highly variable in terms of their direction, intensity and impacts due to variations in weather, vegetation, terrain and other local circumstances such as active defence. Further, the nature of fires’ interactions with human settlements are impacted upon significantly by the nature of settlements themselves. Accordingly, it is not surprising that core principles of urban morphology relating to bushfire attack have not been developed.

This paper will report the results of analysis into urban morphology factors relating to the impacts of fire in suburban edge settings. A methodology for analysing key built form elements relating to bushfire is established, with reference to extant design principles in Australia and overseas. A brief overview of the Bendigo 2009 fire is then provided to illustrate the broader features of the ways fire commonly interacts with the urban edges.

Based on case study and statistical analysis of key urban form features, results are then set out, arguing that density, site coverage and settlement form have influenced outcomes relating to house loss in bushfire events. It is argued that particular forms of settlement may significantly increase the risks associated with exposure to wildfire interface areas, although caution is required to ensure that the site specific nature of fire risks are taken into account.

The paper draws conclusions to consider the results’ in terms of urban design principles for residential subdivisions in bushfire-prone areas. This appraisal has considerable implications for the design of residential subdivisions in bushfire-prone areas, as well as the potential for remedial actions to improve bushfire risks in existing areas

Dr Alan March, Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne

The 4th International Urban Design Conference 2011,  
21st to 23rd of September, Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort and Spa, Queensland

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