Our cities and towns have often evolved around a river or coastline, and water is integral to their identity and appeal yet it is often not a priority in the design of the places in which we live, work and play. By hiding our water systems underground we are missing out on the wider environmental and aesthetic benefits of managing water on or near the surface. To make the most of water we must connect water management with making good places.
Our approach to better water management is called water sensitive urban design. It's a way of integrating the water cycle with the built environment through good planning. Water sensitive urban design brings all of the elements of the water cycle together; supply and demand, waste water, rainfall and its runoff, as well as its contribution to the local character of the environment and community. With this approach we improve quality of life while also addressing flooding, pollution and water scarcity issues.
Changing water from a potential nuisance into a valuable resource, water sensitive urban design can be applied at every scale from the design of our homes to strategic planning of large cities and towns.
But how does it work on a simple level? Instead of letting water from the sink run away down the drain we could use it to water our gardens or flush our toilets. If we used permeable surfaces instead of standard paving and introduced sustainable drainage systems we would relieve pressure on our sewers and could reduce pollution and downstream flooding as well as improve urban ecology, cooling, immunity and property value. Installing green roofs reduces runoff and provides urban habitats. Any excess roof water can be directed to a rain garden to retain the rain to let the plants grow. More and healthier street trees will be naturally watered by runoff if we design tree pits to drain roads. In commercial areas large amounts of rainwater could be harvested from roofs and car parks naturally filtered and stored to flush toilets and supply car washes or other industrial processes and keep businesses operating despite a hosepipe ban. Even a city environment dominated by paving and concrete can be shaped to harvest runoff from paved surfaces and collect waste water from our buildings to provide local supplies of recycled water. Prime development land is sought after in areas near streams, rivers and coastlines that may flood so it is crucial to design new developments that can accommodate and direct flood water using strategic open spaces and corridors to minimize damage to valuable infrastructure and homes.
Water sensitive urban design reduces water pollution, decreases flood risk, gives greater security of water supply, improves ecosystem health, helps communities connect with water, eases the urban heat island effect and brings together disciplines to create attractive and intelligent urban environments. We believe that water sensitive urban design should be an essential component of delivering sustainable developments which are beautiful, successful and resilient. Start delivering water sensitive urban design, connect the water cycle, collaborate with other disciplines and partners and create great places.