Water in Future Cities

"Thinking long term" and "blue and green cities" were some of the concepts discussed at the UK Water Partnership RCUK event Future Visions for Water and Cities 30 June 2015 in London.

It was great to see so much enthusiasm for new approaches to sustainable water management and the event was very well attended throughout the day. The use of breakout groups and workshops for the second half of the day helped add to the debate and motivate those attending. The day was billed as the "Great Think" and an opportunity to address water management issues for cities in the UK and internationally.

From the "Great Stink" to the "Great Think"

A summary of the report launched at the event is available on the future of cities blog and below is my summary of the day. A few key issues this workshop raised for me included:
  • Where are the people? Citizens were not explicitly included in some of the future city visions and how these would be achieved.
  • Is water at the centre of future cities? In order to engage wider decision makers water can be a focus and enabler, however priorities may be on growth and social issues rather than direct environmental issues. This supports the need to make a business case for water management within the wider context of future cities.
Summary of presentations

Cities in 2065: Science and Foresight, Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief
Scientific Adviser
City scale research matters as this is where policies succeed or fail. Good infrastructure is often not valued but there are opportunities with devolution of power to cities with the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [HL] 2015-16.

The foresight project on cities has developed outputs on liveability, water being crucial for attractive cities, and identified that future city growth is largely mapped across areas of water scarcity in the UK.
Household growth and water stress 2011-2021 (RTPI 2014)

A systems approach is required for future cities - linking IT, water, energy and cycles of impact. The foresight project developed a range of  scenarios. This encompasses a diversity of evidence types and included local people through workshops in 20 cities across the UK. The full reports and essays from the foresight programme are available online.

Water Resilience for Cities – a green and blue future, Dr Mark Fletcher, Arup
Climate change will be felt through water and this could be through shocks (extreme weather) or increments (sea level rise). A move towards recovery/ adaptation is required within the context of urbanisation. which leads to the concept of the Water Sensitive City.

Mark presented on designing for water and systems thinking as part of the C40 programme. Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) is gaining momentum in the UK with references in the Southern Gateway planning work and Birmingham demonstrator programme. When thinking about streetscape scale interventions (tree pits, rain gardens) something on the scale of New York's 6-7,000 interventions can have clear results.

Transitions towards water sensitive cities (CIRIA, 2013)

Global Water Risks, Conor Riffle, CDP
The World Economic Forum recognises that water is a key risk to business. A CDP study of business found that 68% thought water was a risk and 20% thought this would constrain growth. City Governments are now being included in annual reporting and out of 300 cities 70% recognised water risk.

The next step is to integrate company and city datasets, which are freely available online.

Designing Systemic Change in Cities, Dan Hill, Future Cities Catapult
"Technology is the solution... but what was the question" opened this broader presentation on future cities. New sensors are enabling higher resolution anlaysis of air quality in Enfield - what are the implications of similar innovation for water? Enabling citizens was discussed with citizen participation models in Latin America.  Parklet programmes in California, which provide temporary public space within roads and rights of ways chosen by citizens, is another approach that could have benefits for water (rain gardens, tree pits and other SuDS measures).

Parklet in City of Oakland California

Looking after London’s Water, Alex Nickson, Greater London Authority
With population growth of up to 3.5m by 2050 and future rainfall resulting in more extremes there is a need to innovate in addressing water management in London. From as early as 2016 Thames Water projects a deficit (demand greater than supply) rising to 10% by 2025 and 21% by 2040.
Projected water supply deficit for London

Many parts of London are at risk of flooding and although the Thames barrier protects many properties it is the other rivers in London that pose major risks. A draft map provided by the Environment Agency was presented and indicates that not one water body within the London area has met good ecological quality status under the Water Framework Directive.

An integrated water management approach is required - GLA's approach includes legislation, regulation, innovation, coordination and partnership. These themes fit with some of the comments I made in a previous blog on the London 2050 infrastructure plan. There is an opportunity for London to lead the way in water management while addressing other liveability issues such as air quality, urban heat islands, recreation and biodiversity.

Workshops I attended

Flood proof cities
I attended the Flood Proof Cities vision workshop session. A initial presentation was followed by group discussions on the following key areas:
  • What are the needs of, and the benefits, for society?
  • How can we help develop this vision further?
  • What are the global business opportunities?
  • What are the barriers and linkages - e.g. with energy?
  • What are the research and innovation needs?
  • How could urban demonstrators and/or simulators help?

Flood proof cities vision

The key issue for my group was the name "flood proof" city doesn't refer to adaptive management required for resilience or the wider links with water resources management, water quality and other benefits from green infrastructure. We discussed some of the many benefits from society that should be considered as part of this vision. CIRIA have recently released the benefits of SuDS tool (BEST), which helps to value these.

Visions such as Water Sensitive Cities, Blue Green Cities of the Future, and the fourth generation of water services already exist. The next step is considering how these can be practically applied by water sector leaders working with urban designers, planners and other policy/ strategy leaders.

Interdependencies workshop: scenarios for the future of water in the national system of cities
The foresight programme ran a taster workshop to demonstrate future scenario thinking processes and to gain insight from the water experts at the event. This was based on what the impacts or interactions for water would be in cities of the future based on various levels of London centrist or regional cities approaches.

What next?

This workshop supported greater debate within the water community and a recognition of the need to focus on cities. However, there is a need for this to integrate with existing initiatives such as the 100 resilient cities project and C40 cities so that water can be an enabler of wider social and economic transformations,

As the water sector continues to innovate through integrated water management approaches we need to engage other sectors in planning and development if we are to achieve goals for water management alongside liveability in Water Sensitive Cities in the UK.


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