Tag Archives: urbanisation

water sensitivity

Water sensitivity can be achieved in Australia

Featured image above: Achieving greater water sensitivity in Australia is possible if the community is engaged in water management strategies, says a recent report.

Has pursuit of the Australian dream – house and garden on the quarter-acre block – led to unsustainable water consumption? While our population grows and climate change renders rainfall less reliable, millions of backyards in our sprawling cities continue to drink thirstily from increasingly scarce water resources.

But it is possible to adapt our suburbs to become more water sensitive, argues Associate Professor Seamus O’Hanlon, co-author of ‘Water, history and the Australian city: Urbanism, suburbanism and water in a dry continent, 1788–2015’. This new report by the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Water Sensitive Cities is part of research output for Understanding social processes to achieve water sensitive futures (Project A2.1).

The engaging historical account of white settlement and water management in Brisbane, Melbourne, and Perth suggests how such adaptation might be achieved. Arguing that good public policy must be historically informed so that lessons of the past influence practice in the future, the report demonstrates the effectiveness of simple and relatively inexpensive strategies to reduce cities’ water consumption, and makes recommendations for how these measures may be employed as part of an overall strategy toward a more water sensitive future.

Historical context crucial to creating water sensitivity

So can the Aussie dream survive in a water sensitive age? In fact, we have no choice, argues Seamus. “We simply cannot go back to year zero and start again. Rather, we must work with suburban communities to adapt to hydrological constraints.”

A central concept in the report is “path-dependency”, meaning that decisions made in the past constrain contemporary practices and policy options. For example, since the early nineteenth century, Australians have displayed a preference for low-density detached housing with gardens, despite the high per-capita cost of supplying services and infrastructure. That, argues Seamus, is not likely to change significantly.

Traditionally, water shortages in Australian cities have been overcome by increasing supply. Governments and water managers have focused on big engineering solutions, such as more and bigger dams (and, more recently, desalination plants) to “drought-proof” growing cities. Increasing water security during the post-war decades encouraged Australians to develop profligate water-use habits, such as frequent showering, growing lush gardens, and hosing driveways.

It was not until the 1980s that thinking began to turn from increasing supply to fostering more efficient usage. In some cities, residential water use had not even been monitored; and charging residents for its use was unthinkable.

Pricing and public education

The report shows that, while Australians have been extravagant with water, they have always shown a remarkable willingness to adapt water habits and usage (notably for gardens) during times of crisis. In practice, two important but administratively simple and cheap policy changes have had enormous impact on residential water use: water pricing and public education campaigns.

This offers a valuable clue about how we can make our thirsty cities more water sensitive. Our adaptability to changed water conditions demonstrates how attitudes – of both government and the public – can change significantly towards.

“Trusting in people to modify behaviour and having a price mechanism are big, big ways of making changes.”

However, the report points out how quickly lessons of water sensitivity are let go in times of plenty. It argues that we can no longer afford to forget: “In a climate-change influenced, water-constrained future, public education campaigns about the importance of water sensitivity should become a permanent component of public policy.”

Working with people

Working with people is pivotal, Seamus insists. “We need behaviour change, but we have to accept that people want to live in a certain way. So let’s adapt our policies to address that – the obvious one is rainwater tanks. The detached house allows you to capture water, which is not so easy to do in multi-storey blocks and apartments.”

Jean Brennan, Coordinator Water and Catchments at Sydney’s Inner West Council, has had considerable success in delivering water sensitive outcomes through sub-catchment programs in Marrickville that work at the neighbourhood level and involve extensive engagement with local communities and stakeholders. “Every activity we do – from involving whole communities, to individuals and local government staff – is, in effect, public education,” she says.

“This report is a fascinating read and particularly useful for advancing the third pillar of water sensitive cities: cities comprising water sensitive communities,” says Jean. “It brings to light the importance of water professionals needing to understand the full history and context before embarking on plans and decisions around water management.”

Decision makers with historical understanding and support for community participation will develop appropriate, context-specific plans that are broadly supported and likely to be implemented, Jean argues. “This report will support practitioners to do that,” she says.

– Nicola Dunnicliff-Wells

This article was first published by Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities on 26 July 2016. Read the original article here.

Data driven communities

Featured image above: the AURIN Map implements a geospatial map publicly available online. Credit: Dr Serryn Eagelson, AURIN

Ildefons Cerdà coined the term ‘urbanisation’ during his Eixample (‘expansion’) plan for Barcelona, which almost quadrupled the size of the city in the mid-19th century.

Cerdà’s revolutionary scientific approach calculated the air and light inhabitants needed, occupations of the population and the services they might need. His legacy remains, with Barcelona’s characteristic long wide avenues arranged in a grid pattern around octagonal blocks offering the inhabitants a city in which they can live a longer and healthier life.

Since Cerdà’s time, urban areas have come a long way in how they are planned and improved, but even today disparities are rife in terms of how ‘liveable’ different areas are. “Liveability is something that I’ve been working on most recently,” says Dr Serryn Eagelson, Data, Business and Applications Manager for the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN).

Eagelson describes her work in finding new datasets as a bit like being a gold prospector. “It encompasses walkability, obesity, clean air, clean water – everything that relates to what you need in order to live well.”

In collaboration with more than 60 institutions and data providers, the $24 million AURIN initiative, funded by the Australian Government and led by The University of Melbourne, tackles liveability and urbanisation using a robust research data approach, providing easy access to over 2,000 datasets organised by geographic areas. AURIN highlights the current state of Australia’s cities and towns and offers the data needed to improve them.

“We have provided AURIN Map to give communities the opportunity to have a look at research output,” says Eagelson. Normally hidden away from public eyes, the information in the AURIN Map can be viewed over the internet and gives communities an unprecedented opportunity to visualise and compare the datasets on urban infrastructure they need to lobby councils and government for improvements in their area.

Recently, AURIN has teamed up with PwC Australia – the largest professional services company in the world – to pool skills, tools and data. “We’re also working with PwC in developing new products,” adds Eagelson. “It’s quite complicated but PwC’s knowledge is giving us new insights into how data can be used for economic policy.”

The Australian National Data Service (ANDS) also has strong links with AURIN, having undertaken a number of joint projects on topics such as how ‘walkable’ neighbourhoods are, which can then be used to plan things like public transport accessibility (even down to where train station entrances and exits should be located); urban employment clusters, which can aid decision-making on the location of businesses; and disaster management, where the collaborators developed a proof-of-concept intelligent Disaster Decision Support System (iDDSS) to provide critical visual information during natural disasters like floods or bushfires.

“I’m probably most excited by a project releasing the National Health Service Directory – a very rich dataset that we’ve never had access to before,” says Eagelson. “It even includes the languages spoken by people who run those services, and that data’s now being used to look at migrants to Australia, where they move from suburb to suburb, and how their special health needs can be best catered for – so this information has a big public health benefit.”

This article was first published by the Australian National Data Service in May 2016. Read the original article here.