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Nation’s ‘garden’ capital set for water-sensitive urban design boost

Canberra’s population is predicted to grow to 500,000 over the next decade and one water consulting agency has been working to revive and re-conceive the city’s design to ensure the nation’s capital stays sustainable and liveable.

Presenting at the upcoming Australian Water Association ACT Water Matters conference on Canberra’s water future, Alluvium Consulting NSW Regional Manager Peter Morison said it’s crucial to start thinking about how the city will be expanded given Canberra’s predicted population growth.

“While 500,000 is not staggering in comparison to Melbourne or Sydney, this growth will have an impact on the way Canberra is designed and built moving forward, and the legacy of the city’s original design is critical to its future,” he said.

“It will clearly have an impact on its water resources, its open space and its liveability; it will be a denser environment.”

Morison said Alluvium is considering [Walter] Burley Griffin’s original design concepts and aims, and how they meld with the future of the national capital.

“Bringing sustainability and liveability together, we thought continuing Burley Griffin’s vision of Canberra being a garden city was a good way of achieving those aims,” he said.

“With the garden city vision, there is this wonderful connection between what is in the landscape now and what could be seen in the landscape in the future with water as an active component.

“The challenge is: how do we maintain the city’s amenity that was originally conceived by Burley Griffin? We believe one of the ways to do this involves understanding these landscapes in a social sense and prioritising water in the landscapes across the city.

“Emerging concepts, such as the city as a national park [proposed for London in 2019] need to be considered to maintain support for the original design while evolving in a manner that is contemporary to a growing city’s needs.”

The city’s unique demography of young families and professionals is an important characteristic that will influence its landscapes and associated ecosystem services.

Morison said that with the continued change in urban and suburban living, water will become an essential ingredient to ensuring spaces stay liveable and green, but it will also be crucial in terms of water reuse.

“We’ve got smaller domiciles; there are more unit dwellings. We want to keep dense living effective, vibrant and healthy. With more suburban areas getting denser, we will need to be thinking about water at a more micro level and how through good design it offsets the consequences of urbanisation, such as the urban heat island effect,” he said.

“This creates the opportunity to turn to Burley Griffin’s design: what were the major spines of the city? What are they going to look like in the future and should we be involving water in preserving those spines while improving their capacity to provide urban cooling and other forms of local amenity?

“But it’s also about the type of water that’s being used. It’s going to be about using ‘old water’ in new ways, such as the effective use of stormwater and wastewater in the landscape.”

Morison said he will be discussing some of the planning ideas and challenges involved in Canberra’s water future at the conference.

“How do we build in a way that maintains sufficient base-flow and taps into recycled water to benefit the community? There needs to be significant planning and we’ll be talking about some of those ideas in the presentation,” he said.

“We want to use our water sources well, but in a way that links to Burley Griffin’s vision within the new context of densification. We want to improve landscapes for the sake of servicing young families and community, and to provide the amenity that people are seeking.”

Register for the Australian Water Association ACT Water Matters conference to hear from Peter Morison about Alluvium’s ideas for Canberra’s future.

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