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A water-sensitive approach to urban infill

Australia’s property boom shows no sign of slowing down, and as backyards are subdivided and industrial estates are converted into new housing developments, it’s more important than ever that infill development is sustainable.

Recent research from a team at the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, led by Professor Steven Kenway, explored the impacts of infill development on water practices and proposed design alternatives that deliver superior outcomes.

This Water Sensitive Cities program undertook a broad range of research to produce practical, evidence-based guidance for decision makers.

“We are looking at how we can design cities that are good places to live and also water sensitive, and that involves looking at how do we use less water, how do we use water more intelligently, and how do we make sure we’re using water at the quality it’s needed, where it’s needed?” said Kenway.

The Water Sensitive Outcomes for Infill Development research provided regulators, developers and architects with key information for designing and implementing more water-sensitive cities. In addition to a report and two detailed case studies, the project produced an evaluation framework and a typology catalogue to help inform decision making.

“Our case studies are one-of-a-kind examples of cross-sectoral collaboration among architects, water engineers and planners. We iterated several times to produce a catalogue of housing types, as well as tools that would allow us to evaluate both the water and the urban heat performance of each housing typology,” said Meena Surendran, one of the researchers who worked on the project.

The project had a number of areas of focus, including identifying design options for reducing stormwater runoff and using water to reduce the urban heat island effect. They also considered the role of water management in energy consumption.

“Retaining water onsite and keeping the quality of living spaces, for example delivering large houses, is a big challenge because urban plot sizes are limited and these objectives compete for space,” said Mojtaba Moravej, another of the researchers.

“That’s where our research is quite unique. We first quantify how business-as-usual infill development conflicts with cities’ water-sensitive targets, and then provide practical pathways to ensure all parties’ objectives can be met.”

Building on research that has previously identified the benefit of vegetation in cities, the team identified practical steps that could take advantage of these opportunities, such as incorporating larger and greener vegetation and retaining water in the landscape.

“With this level of detail, we now have the data and the tools we need to make very specific recommendations around the best possible outcomes in terms of housing features, amenities and environmental benefits for a range of infill developments in the future,” said Surendran.