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Building water sensitive urban design into Australian cities

Water sensitive communities tend to be more liveable, resilient and sustainable spaces. But creating them on a city-scale will require better processes and frameworks that integrate water into urban planning. 

“There is a significant gap between the policy aspirations we have for our cities and the outcomes we’re achieving on the ground through urban development,” CRC for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC) Director of Strategic Engagement Chris Chesterfield said.

“While we have these aspirations for cities to be more sustainable and liveable, we seem to be stuck in a business-as-usual approach.”

Although there are precinct-scale developments that successfully incorporate water sensitive urban design (WSUD), Chesterfield said it’s rare to see this approach across a whole city.

One of the reasons for this is a lack of guidance on how to deliver water sensitive outcomes or innovations through urban planning.

To address this, the CRCWSC launched its Guiding Integrated Urban and Water Planning project in July last year. The aim is to develop a framework that makes it easier to apply WSUD principles to urban development.

“This includes things like how you set up collaborative governance, how you evaluate different development scenarios and servicing options, and what level of practice is appropriate for the level of innovation you’re trying to achieve,” Chesterfield said.

To build the framework, the CRCWSC is looking at what is regarded as best practice both nationally and internationally. Chesterfield said Singapore stands out on the global stage for its approach to water in urban planning.

At home, Melbourne’s 480-hectare Fishermans Bend project is leading the way, with a water recycling plant and stormwater harvesting infrastructure built into the development.

“Fishermans Bend is the biggest urban renewal project happening in the country at the moment, and it features really significant innovations that will be incorporated into the development over the next 20 years,” Chesterfield said.

The next step is to test the framework in real-world situations involving different cities, different development types and on different scales.

“Our vision is that Australian cities will manage water to make them more liveable, resilient, productive and sustainable,” Chesterfield said.

“The way [CRCWSC] is helping cities to make that transition is … by generating knowledge through research, synthesising that knowledge into products and tools that industry can use, and influencing policy and decision making in Australia about urban water management.”

The Guiding Integrated Urban and Water Planning project is due for completion in December 2020.

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