Publication Details

Dowling, R., McGuirk, P. & Bulkeley, H. (2016). Demonstrating retrofitting: perspectives from Australian local government. In M. Hodson & S. Marvin (Eds.), Retrofitting Cities: Priorities, Governance and Experimentation (pp. 212-231). Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.


Cities are critical to transitions to low carbon futures, not only because of the large and growing global urban population but also because global resource consumption is concentrated in cities (Gossop, 2011:208; Hodson, Marvin, Robinson, & Swilling, 2012; Monstadt, 2007). Ensuring that new urban spaces, such as new housing or new city precincts, are low or zero carbon is central to these transitions (Hodson & Marvin, 2010). Yet, equally important to reducing urban carbon consumption is the retrofitting of existing urban planning frameworks and imaginaries, infrastructure, built form and patterns of daily life (Eames et.al., 2013; Pincetl, 2012). Retrofitting involves the modification of what already exists in cities: altering the ways in which existing buildings are heated and cooled, diverting households, businesses and organisations toward renewable sources of energy rather than fossil fuels, encouraging the take up of energy efficient appliances, altering urban infrastructures of energy and transport provision toward renewable sources.

Retrofitting is both a social and a technological challenge. Technologically, it involves the installation of a diverse range of new or upgraded zero or low carbon technologies in the existing urban fabric. These include, often in combination, new forms of building insulation to minimise heat transfer between the inside and outside of buildings, more efficient lighting and heating (e.g. heat pump rather than electric hot water systems) and micro-generation of energy supply. Retrofitting technologies can be applied at a number of scales. These include individual buildings, clusters of buildings, precincts, entire local authority areas, or supra-urban systems of energy infrastructure. In the Australian case, for example, where 60% of carbon emissions are generated by energy use and 75% of electricity generation is coal-fired (Australian Australian Government, 2011), micro (ie individual building) installation of solar PV is the most common retrofitting technology. Retrofitting is also a social process in which technologies are adopted, accommodated and altered by urban actors. The behaviours and choices of individuals have a potentially profound impact on the effectiveness of technologies. For example, a recent Cambridge study suggested that attention to behaviour change can double the energy savings of retrofitting (Markusson, Ishii, & Stephens, 2011).

Surprisingly, given the importance of retrofitting to the achievement of low carbon cities, and the voluminous literature on urban carbon governance (Bulkeley & Castan Broto, 2013; Rice, 2010; While, Jonas, & Gibbs, 2010), explicit focus on enabling retrofitting through governance is rare. There is some analysis of programs that encourage retrofitting at household or building scales (see Deakin, Campbell, & Reid, 2012; Ghosh & Head, 2009; Kelly, 2009; Sunikka-Blank, Chen, Britnell, & Dantsiou, 2012; Willand et al 2012), but little consideration of what institutions and mechanisms might best enhance cities’ capacities to adopt retrofitting technologies and behaviours. This chapter hence provides a theoretical framework for understanding the governance of urban retrofitting as well as empirical answers to the question of the character of retrofitting governance. Specifically, we develop and implement a framework for understanding the governance of urban retrofitting that considers the assemblage of institutions, materials, agencies and mechanisms that might enable the transformation of cities. This framework is outlined in the first section. The second section presents a more detailed examination of retrofit governance at the ‘sub’ urban scale, using an audit of local scale retrofitting initiatives in Australia’s largest city – Sydney – to develop a typology of means or techniques through which retrofitting is governed. Developing our argument that an understanding of governing retrofit requires attention to the mechanisms and techniques through which conduct is ‘conducted’, in the final empirical section we outline two cases in which retrofitting is pursued through demonstration. We ask how and by whom they are enabled (and simultaneously, what are the constraints they negotiate), what are the mechanisms through which they become productive, and what is their relationship to the existing carbon governance regime. We also focus on the ‘demonstration’ or ‘showcase’ elements of these projects to critically interrogate the multifaceted learning processes embedded within them. We conclude with an analysis of the limitations of retrofitting governance as currently practised and reflections on the purchase of demonstration as a governmental technique at citywide scales.