“Do you know where and how you want to be buried?” Sydney is facing a severe lack of graves

Waverley Cemetery, Sydney. Image: Getty.

Do you know where and how you want to be buried?

Will you choose an elaborate Victorian-style headstone, or do you prefer a “green” burial, with only a GPS tracking signal indicating your location? Or you may elect to purchase a Bios Urn, a 100 per cent biodegradable capsule you plant in the ground with cremated ashes and a seed of your choice which will one day grow into a tree.

Issues of mortality and access to burial space are not typically dinner party conversations or at the top of government agendas. And, until recently, its priority as a future challenge in planning has been virtually non-existent.

Sydney’s 2014 strategic plan, A Plan for Growing Sydney, recognises the need for studies of cemetery capacity and demand to identify future land requirements. Such studies are likely to reveal spatial variances across larger cities due to differences in age and religious and cultural communities.

The last major changes to the cemetery landscape in Australian cities occurred in the late 1800s. At this time, the crowded and unsanitary conditions of churchyard burial grounds required the dedication of considerable burial land on what was once the urban fringe.

Many of these cemeteries continue to serve society’s burial needs. For the past century, there has been no pressing need to plan cities for the dead. It therefore comes as no surprise that consideration of a cemetery as essential public infrastructure has fallen through the cracks.

We have reached a point where this must change. The lifespans of existing cemeteries in major Australian cities are severely limited. In Sydney, according to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, the metropolitan region’s 310,000 to 330,000 available plots will likely be exhausted by 2050.

Annual numbers of deaths are predicted to double between 2011 and 2051. Despite a shift towards cremations over the last century (Sydney’s cremation rate is 66 per cent), our cities’ diverse religious and cultural communities will always require space for burial.

This issue raises two important considerations. Where will we bury? And how will we bury?

Where will we bury?

At some 280 hectares, Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetery is the largest cemetery in the southern hemisphere. The allocation of such sizeable land only 15km from the CBD is unimaginable today. Equally as inconceivable is the location of Waverley Cemetery, which clings to the ocean cliffs of Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

Waverley Cemetery occupies a coastal site in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, the sort of location that simply isn’t available for a new cemetery today. Image: author provided.

Significant barriers to cemetery development in urban areas include high land values, limited available land, restrictive zoning and a more pressing need to house the living. The landlocked nature of many existing cemeteries suggests no choice except for the dedication of additional land on the urban fringe.

Sydney has changed considerably since Rookwood Cemetery was established in 1868. While planners are continually rethinking how we design for housing, transport and employment to meet changing needs, we are yet to contemplate a new life for the cemetery landscape.


How will we bury?

The need to plan for the shortage of burial space presents a timely opportunity to reconsider how we bury. Recent legislative changes in New South Wales introduced provisions for the re-use of an older grave once the tenure period expires. Renewable tenure creates the opportunity to provide ongoing cemetery capacity.

Renewable tenure is uncommon in Australia. The majority of burial plots are still sold in perpetuity, meaning a grave remains untouched forever.

Have you ever considered that your grave could later become someone else’s? Would you buy a grave for you parents for a limited number of years, or would you choose a grave that you could visit for the rest of your life and your children’s lives?

These are difficult questions to ponder. Additionally, disturbing a personal and sacred space for the dead typically does not sit well with the public. A grave is often thought of as a “final resting place”.

An important question is whether the bereaved seek comfort in memorialising the deceased in perpetuity, or is a physical space for mourning only required for an initial period of time. Considering that grave visitations often cease after 40 to 50 years, is it reasonable to assume that the significance of a grave varies over time?

When the opinions of younger adults (aged 20-30) on grave re-use were surveyed by one of the authors, 72 per cent of respondents indicated that they were unaware of this practice. However, respondents recognised links to several urban issues, including sustainable land consumption and growth pressures in cities.

A natural burial park has been established in the grounds of the Catholic Kemps Creek Cemetery in Sydney’s west. Image: Sydney Natural Burial Park/Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria.

Respondents also expressed interest in other burial trends, such as natural burial parks, where physical memorials are limited and the natural environment remains largely unaltered. Despite a discussion on burial practices, 68 per cent said they wanted to be cremated. If cremation rates do rise in the future, this could essentially mean less urban land is needed for burials.

A conversation about burial preferences and new burial trends will improve understanding and provide direction on the future demand for burial land and the future form of the cemetery landscape.The Conversation

Kate Ryan is a researcher and Christine Steinmetz a senior lecturer in built environment at UNSW Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Pembrokeshire's innovative new eco-hamlet is great. But it should be the size of a city

The eco hamlet. Image: Western Solar.

The opening in January 2017 of an “eco-hamlet” for council house tenants in West Wales is great news. I have nothing but praise for a development which builds houses with a low carbon footprint, using locally grown wood, to make homes which are well insulated and powered by solar energy. It was also quick to build, with large sections being made in a factory and then assembled on site. And it was relatively cheap – at around £70,000 to £100,000 per building, it is certainly comparable to the costs of more conventional builds.

These houses are an inspiration to the construction industry and an aspiration for the home owner. After all, who wouldn’t like to live in a house that had yearly utility bills of £200, rather than the national average of £1,500?

So the problem is not the six wonderful solar houses at Glanrhyd, Pembrokeshire, or the lucky people who will get to live in them (and enjoy shared use of an electric car). The problem is that we’ve seen all of this before – but nothing changes. What we really need is far, far more of them.

Pentre Solar in Pembrokeshire. Image: Western Solar.

I’ve been involved in sustainable construction for nearly 25 years and seen many inspirational developments like Glanrhyd. There’s Julian Marsh’s home in Nottingham, Susan Roaf’s Oxford Ecohouse and the Hockerton Housing Project, to name but a few. The list is long.


Yet while many individuals continue to build these innovative and inspirational structures, we have a construction industry which still responds to these buildings with disdain. One executive from a large well-known house building company told me recently: “This is a new, expensive and untested technology. We just can’t risk building something so new with all the risks to the consumer and at a higher cost.”

But the situation is even worse than the disdain from the mainstream construction industry. Rather than being welcomed, the latest versions of these sustainable buildings are challenged at every turn. The initial response to the Welsh eco-hamlet plans were concerns about the materials, the technology and the design. The houses at Glanrhyd then had more than 20 planning conditions placed upon them. The CEO of Western Solar, the company behing the hamlet, freely admits that nearly half of their research budget went on solving problems they encountered along the way.

Thinking and building big

So it seems this kind of development just isn’t celebrated enough. There is a general atmosphere of mistrust from construction professionals. It is seen as too complex, too expensive, too risky. Yet there are positive reactions, too. Welsh politician Lesley Griffiths had this to say about the new houses in Glanrhyd:

This scheme ticks so many boxes. We need more houses, we need more energy efficiency, we want to help people with fuel poverty. It’s been really good to hear how they have sourced local products. It’s great they’re using local people to build the houses.

Surely we need to take the eco-technology we have and start rolling it out on a much larger scale. To do so would be a massive step in meeting the significant housing shortage (an estimated 125,000 extra new houses are needed every year). It would also address the disrepair of our current housing stock, and help refit the millions of houses in good repair but requiring improved performance in order to achieve the government’s 2050 carbon reduction target.

We must not forget that the 2050 Climate Change target is not some arbitrary political policy, but one based on the environmental challenge facing all of us. We need to play our part in slowing down the speed of climate change and adapting to the changing natural, social and economic environment.

The solar houses in Pembrokeshire are wonderful. But until we start building huge numbers of buildings with similar credentials, we are just celebrating a cottage industry rather than restructuring our urban environment for an uncertain future.The Conversation

John Grant is senior lecturer in natural and built environment at Sheffield Hallam University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.