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Water sensitive urban design crucial for keeping Sydney liveable

Sydney is set to look very different within the next 30 years – population will top out at 8 million by then, resembling cities like London and Bangkok. And with the added pressure of climate change, water sensitive urban design and planning will play a key role in keeping the city liveable to avoid growing pains.

Presenting a keynote presentation at 2018 WSUD & Hydropolis Conference on the future of Sydney’s water, Sydney Water City Futures Manager Kaia Hodge said the utility has been working hard to plan for inevitable changes.

“Sydney Water has been working on long-term strategy for the needs of metropolitan Sydney for water services well out beyond 2020 to around 2056 – we are planning for a city of around 8 million, which is a city the size of London or Bangkok today,” Hodge said.

“The Greater Sydney Commission has been putting together an overarching vision for Sydney. As Sydney’s primary water provider, we are responding to that vision by describing the place that water management needs to play in Sydney’s future.”

The Greater Sydney Commission is aiming to plan for a productive, livable and sustainable city, and Hodge said this vision involves management and design of three CBDs: Sydney’s current harbour CBD, a Parramatta CBD and also a western parkland CBD centred around Sydney’s planned second airport.

With the unprecedented growth predicted, Hodge said current water management practices will need to adapt in order to tackle sustainability and livability challenges.

“As we change the density of the city, the role that water management plays in our future cities becomes a lot broader than just taps and toilets,” she said.

“This is a huge challenge because, in Sydney, urban planning and water planning has been segregated and fragmented, which compromises our ability to create the sort of city and residential areas that we aspire to for our future.

“The segregation in relation to how we do our planning and how we are regulated means that we have risk of inefficient investment and not achieving the broader economic benefits that we need if our city is to keep operating in the same way.”

Hodge said that despite these issues, the conversation around how different water-related urban considerations are handled is starting to broaden, with different service providers starting to think outside the box.

“The planets are starting to align. There are lots of things causing the planning and water management players to take a different approach to the way we do our work and the way we work together,” she said.

“There’s an emerging conversation between agencies and water is finally being recognised as a key enabler of a productive and livable Sydney. We need to be able to stitch potable water, stormwater, recycled water and waterway management together, not just for the water supplier or customer, but for the needs of the city itself.”

Hodge said regenerative water services will play a key role in determining how Sydney operates in future, but that ensuring success will require a water-based approach to urban planning.

“Regenerative water services, from a water industry lens, are about joining the urban water cycle with resource management more broadly. It recognises the need to join up potable water, stormwater and recycled water, but recognising the opportunities that water management has for generating energy,” she said.

“Those things are technically feasible and are increasingly becoming financially viable, but they need to be enabled by deliberate urban planning.”

To learn more about the future of water sensitive urban design and how it will affect our cities, register for the 2018 WSUD & Hydropolis Conference, held from 12-15 February 2018. The Australian Water Association is pleased to be a supporting partner of this conference.

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