In focus: water management in cities

To think differently about water, you need to think differently about cities.


Water has always been central to urban vitality: a city’s identity may hinge on a river or coastline, and an on-demand supply and good drainage are essential. However, the cracks are showing.  Hosepipe bans, flooding and watercourse pollution are all signs of stress.

Now, with the climate changing and the population growing, urban spaces need to be transformed into water management machines. To act as catchments that filter and resupply water – and become more beautiful as a result.

This process of water sensitive urban design reframes water management as an opportunity for planning and design. Australia is 20 years ahead of us here. It has micro-wetlands in commercial courtyards, swales along the central reservations of streets and city-wide water recycling. Rainwater is treated as a resource, with landscape designed to hold and cleanse runoff. This provides a new supply, and cuts downstream flooding risk and water pollution.

In the UK, AECOM is pioneering water sensitive urban design in a masterplan for the University of Cambridge. To spread further, strategic water management is needed. Currently one engineer designs the drainage scheme, another conducts flood risk, and another considers supply and wastewater.

The time has come for planners, architects, urban designers, landscape architects and engineers to work together in new ways, with an urgent priority in mind. Water deserves to be thought about differently.

Celeste Morgan is director of sustainability at AECOM
020 3009 2157



Get our latest features in your inbox

Join our community of business leaders