What should global thinking on water resilience of cities include?

Posted 29 January 2018

Sydney Harbour
Creating more sustainable and liveable urban centres is about environmental thinking, according to Arup’s Global Water Leader, and this requires our design processes to turn back to nature and embracing what surrounds us. 

Presenting a keynote address at the upcoming WSUD 2018 & Hydropolis 2018 Conference, Arup Global Water Leader Dr Mark Fletcher will discuss international good practice and introduce some of the latest global thinking on water resilience of cities.

Fletcher said cities are transitioning from grey infrastructure to green and blue thinking, a shift that is needed if urban centres are to become more sustainable and more liveable, and more in tune with environmental influences. 

“All around the world, people are making a shift towards green and blue cities. That’s what water-sensitive urban design means in the context of a city where populations are growing,” he said. 

“There is a shift from the traditional approach to water – grey infrastructure, pumps and pipes – which looks at water and wastewater treatment without full acknowledgement of the wider water cycle, a cycle that extends into and out of people's homes and communities.

“As we shift from impermeable, concrete infrastructure that’s out of sync with natural processes, and move into a better understanding of our development relating to the water cycle, we become semi-natural in our response.”

And although the push for more natural urban design solutions is happening rapidly, Fletcher said moving towards this direction is a return to how things should have been done in the first place. 

“It’s not a revolution, it’s more a natural progression, a progression towards becoming more in tune with our natural processes. And that’s what we should have been doing in the first place. A lot of our problems arise from the fact that we haven’t designed nature-based solutions,” he said. 

“We are starting to wake up and smell the coffee, and realising that we can do it a lot better. We can create a better connection with nature. Working with the water cycle creates more solutions than problems.”

While there is still some way to go before green and blue thinking is fully realised within our cities, Fletcher said the opportunities offered by water-sensitive design approaches are big and have the potential to transform how people think about living in cities and creating urban communities.

“Greenery and water doesn't have to be hidden away. It’s easier for people to understand and connects people with the infrastructure that gives them benefit,” he said. 

“Grey infrastructure has its place, though offers very few opportunities compared to flora and fauna: from how people enjoy space recreationally, to enhanced land value from developing next to rivers and water bodies, and calming people and giving people a sense of place and connection with their environment.”

Fletcher said the transition is as much about attitude and perspective as it is about design, and changing how people understand infrastructure and connect with it will be a challenge to overcome on the path to green and blue cities. 

“Dead, grey, polluted water courses are the industrial legacy that we’ve been left with, and what we want now is better informed and better connected communities with their environment,” he said. 

“Some of the challenges surrounding this goal is are about people respecting, embracing and taking some element of ownership for the environments and communities around them. 

“All of this will make our cities more livable and that is really important going forward.”

Register for the WSUD 2018 & Hydropolis 2018 Conference, proudly supported by the Australian Water Association, to hear more from Dr Mark Fletcher on green and blue thinking in the global context.

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