Learning from the past and prioritising for the future
D Cunningham, P Birtles, S Fitzgerald
Publication Date (Web): 23 January 2018
DOI: https://doi.org/10.21139/wej.2018.005

Population growth and climate change are transforming our cities; the growing urban population is putting increasing strain on cities and the resources that sustain them. These challenges demand a shift in the function of cities and therefore in urban planning and design. Globally, this shift is shaped by two United Nations agendas: The Sustainable Development Goals and The New Urban Agenda. The New Urban Agenda progresses the objective of urban development from ensuring essential services, for example water, food and shelter, to a vision for future cities to be compact, inclusive, equitable, cohesive, participatory, resilient, sustainable and productive. Urban water management plays a vital role in achieving these outcomes through providing infrastructure and ecosystem services.

In Australia, the role of water in urban development to help achieve the holistic vision of a future city is often described through the concept to of Water Sensitive Cities; cities which are sustainable, resilient and liveable. Of these, liveability has been the most recent shift for the Australian water industry. This paper looks at an approach to prioritising the implementation water solutions that enhance liveability, so that these solutions move from the opportunistic and demonstrative to standard practice. A case study of the Cup and Saucer wetland is examined to show the liveability outcomes that have shifted Sydney Water’s appetite and capacity for similar water sensitive urban design projects. The case study demonstrates how the wetland has contributed to: improving water quality through stormwater treatment; community engagement in the planning and maintenance of the wetland; enhancing habitat and biodiversity; and strengthening interagency rapport. In addition, it highlights the economic value of the wetland, which has been calculated as increasing the value of the surrounding houses by $16M.

Despite the demonstrated improvements of this and other industry case studies, there is limited post-completion evaluation of water sensitive urban design projects that informs a prioritised approach to embedding liveability within water infrastructure projects as standard practice. The paper therefore also demonstrates the value of benchmarking the wetland against the liveability indicator metrics developed by the Water Services Association of Australia and against the transition dynamics framework developed by the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities. In this way, the paper demonstrates how these indicators and frameworks can be used to plan and prioritise future similar projects to ensure that a city is progressing towards being water sensitive. It is proposed that the transformation to incorporating water sensitivity as standard practice can be facilitated by: ensuring institutional commitment; benchmarking a city’s state of urban water management and setting a common vision for the future state; using the transition framework to identify key gaps in the stages of transformation to set strategic goals; and using relevant indicators to better understand the full economic as well as non-monetary costs and benefits of the applied water solutions.

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