Webinar: Watering the Garden - landscape led approaches to managing water in Garden Communities

This half day online conference, hosted by the Urban Flood Resilience Research Consortium, looked at the latest landscape-led approaches to managing water in large scale developments and new communities. This is a great way to incorporate water landscapes into projects from the initial stages.

Simon Harrison, Head of Design at Ebbsfleet Development Corporation started the conference by mentioning how Ebbsfleet was used as a case study research project for developing a Garden City. This was an opportunity to develop ideas such as sustainable drainage in the master plan.

The first presentation was from Emily O’Donnell from the University of Nottingham, who presented her Urban Flood Resilience research outputs. She started by outlining that water challenges in the UK are not just flood related. Issues also include water shortages; watercourse health such as quality standards, biodiversity and aesthetics; connection of people with water, supporting growth and development; and supporting liveable urban places in blue and green space.

Emily mentioned that flood risk is everywhere, and flooding from rainfall can happen in lots of places spatially. We aim to manage this, and blue-green cities is an approach which can help. These patches of vegetation and water landscapes can help connect communities to outdoor spaces and improve wellbeing, whilst adopting a whole systems approach to the urban water cycle (e.g. incorporating storm water).

It is quite complex to develop a resilient city, made harder by uncertainty as to how climate and the economy will change. Research at universities all across the UK has been taking place, looking at a few aims in particular. These include considering the engineering design; the interface between planners and engineers; and the development of urban flood risk management that functions with other urban systems such as transport links, land use and natural systems.

Emily suggested the need to change the narrative and show that storm water is not just a nuisance, but presents opportunities to make cities resilient, attractive, competitive and liveable. This can be achieved through rainwater harvesting, restoration of rivers, creation of diverse wetlands, topping up groundwater aquifer resources, energy generation and recovery, and enhancing ecosystem services.

Community engagement is also a massive factor for blue-green infrastructure. Getting people involved in design will help local communities feel empowered and engaged in their local decisions. More collaborative, democratic, sustainable decisions will help communities understand how we can manage floodwater problems.

Next Justin Abbot, Director at Arup, presented on integrating water management in new communities and designing with water. He stressed the significance of water in the environment, and how it helps shape and develop our communities. Particularly, we need to consider integrated, catchment scale and systems view. We need to manage water in a more sustainable way, reconnect people with water and enhance the vision of what water can do for our communities.

Justin outlined 6 key principles for designing with water:

  1. Supporting human-wellbeing and natural systems through community engagement and co-creation. Recognise the role water plays in our communities, especially now in this pandemic where we are more frequently washing hands and looking towards open spaces. Working towards tackling existing problems with new, innovative solutions. Preventing water entering the sewer network has both local benefits and impacts on carbon storage, when compared to traditional grey infrastructure solutions. Explore a health-led approach to place, in practice. Look at water problems through a health and wellbeing lens.
  2. Using a guided systems thinking. Innovative approaches and tools that help cities build water resilience at the urban scale. Help cities grow their capacity and provide high quality water resources for all residents, protect from water hazards and connect through water-based transportation networks. (provide – protect – connect). Think about what works in one city and how it might be transferrable to another.
  3. Digital technology on accessible platforms, enabling asset sharing and new insights. (Inputs – analysis – outputs). Categorise different land use and areas and look for improvements and developments to incorporate green infrastructure. This is similar to NFM mapping to locate appropriate areas for interventions.
  4. Holistic urban planning and design for resilience. Importance of the use of technology incorporated into techniques. Approaches don’t need to be static – innovative ideas to help techniques move/amend in line with channel conditions.
  5. Work in partnership, encourage early engagement, look for shared opportunities. Need to be creative, expansive and understand governance of the water cycle. Consider how many people are involved in the cycle across its path.
  6. Understand the full value of water, and recognise and value the wider benefits. This can be the hardest principle as it is tricky to identify, quantify and value water as a valuable asset and resource.

Following this, Tom Smith, Director of Spacehub, talked about Masterplanning with water. Tom is a Landscape Architect who works on master plans. He provided an interesting overview of a few projects where green-blue infrastructure is being incorporated. He stressed the importance of integrated systems, and considering water management alongside ecology, rooftops for vegetation, land use, streets, and open park space. All deliver many benefits including attractive, green areas and streets, also helping to reduce climate footprint.

The Ebbsfleet Garden City project site was defined by water, marshes, estuary and wetlands. These projects often start with big broad ideas, which are turned into meaningful water management ideas. It is important to develop an inspiring approach to motivate the community, which is also flexible to change in circumstances and climate. This project aimed to de-pave impermeable surfaces and increase the amount of soft landscape. Topography and geology are also important considerations for the most effective systems.

A second project example was Eddington, Cambridge. This is a picturesque water management approach, where techniques expanded into university farm land, including rain water harvesting, and other sustainable ideas. Tom talked about breaking down key open spaces and setting green infrastructure networks into a masterplan and planning system that all partners then work around, involving engineers, designers and architects.

Stephen Birkinshaw, a Research Fellow from Newcastle University then briefly demonstrated CityCAT, a modelling software to which analyses and visualises surface water flooding. It looks at the effects of different interventions, for example the impact of a Swale installation on flow paths of storm water.

Sheena Bell from Gillespies then presented on integrating water into street design and public spaces. Sheena works in leading landscape architecture and urban design practice. She pointed out how the pandemic has amplified what we already knew about climate change and the importance of green open local spaces. Streets are key areas which we interact with daily, and Sheena demonstrated examples of where green-infrastructure has been implemented.