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Water Systems in Urban Settings: Two Publications Shed Light on Past, Present & Ideas for the Future

In Transitioning to Water Sensitive Cities: Historical, Current and Future Transition States, the authors present a very eye-opening and fascinating view into the history of how cities moved through various states of water management, and the reasons why these transition states occurred. By understanding how, over time, cities have moved through various methods of water management, we also learn about how urbanization impacts the water cycle. Three of the city water management states from the paper are mentioned here.

First, the establishment of a Sewered City may be appealing to those who are interested in the field of public health. Perceiving waterways as environmentally benign is alive and well, as is seen all over the world. Rivers, lakes, and streams are considered dumping grounds, and an easy, obvious, and harmless place for toxic runoff to eventually end up.

Second, in Drained Cities, the authors discuss how society changed after the second world war: Homes were built facing away from waterways, which were perceived as dumping grounds, and this created an “unseen” storm water system, where neighborhoods were purposefully made unaware of how storm water was distributed and transferred. This is typical in suburban neighborhoods.

And last, in a Waterways City, 1970s environmentalists began to challenge social norms, and also how storm water pollution is a diffuse, or widespread issue, that is not easily solved under the hydro-social arrangement of the 1970s.

In Water as an Element of Urban Design: Drawing Lessons from Four European Case Studies, Case 3: Ribeira de Sassoeiros, Cascais, Portugal, provides a compelling example of how city officials can add features to water systems that allow safe public access, and encourage residents to become educated about sustainably-designed water systems.

The Sassoeiros stream was turned into a canal. Because of this, destruction ensued, and flooding led to economic damage, as well as displaced and homeless Lisbon area residents. The Cascais City Council began to implement measures that, not only addressed the issue of flooding, but also the health and safety of residents by applying biological and ecological principles to design. The Council is implementing the construction of retention basins and restoring riparian galleries, which are crucial for wildlife. They are also opening a pedestrian-friendly space at the site of the stream.

To conclude, the following animated video from Susdrain offers an engaging explanation of Sustainable Storm Water Drainage Systems. Through meticulous design that seeks to replicate natural drainage patterns, environmental impacts are significantly reduced (BGS, 2017).

"Ever wondered where the rain goes? Sustainable drainage animation"

This article has been kindly contributed by Rebecca D. Thomas, student at the University of South Florida, Patel College of Global Sustainability. Follow Rebecca on Twitter @rdtblog



British Geological Survey (2017). "What are SuDS and how do they work?" [Online]. Last Accessed: June 3, 2018.

Costa, C. (2015). Water as an Element of Urban Design: Drawing Lessons from Four European Case Studies. Springer International Publishing Switzerland.

Rebekah Brown, N. K. (2008). Transitioning to Water-Sensitive Cities: Historical, Current, and Future Transition States. 11th International Conference on Urban Drainage. Edinburgh.


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