A rising and increasingly dense urban population, combined with decades of unsustainable practices, has had an immense (and adverse) impact on the world’s natural infrastructure. The depletion of our natural infrastructure has been caused by natural processes, negligence, and in recent decades, climate- and weather-related factors. The time has come to restore these resources to a condition that is ecologically sound and provides the resilience, materials and services that communities and businesses need to thrive – economically, socially and environmentally. In essence, what we need is a “circular economy” that would contribute to new technological, financial and environmental technology and innovation. And urban stormwater management and climate-resilience will play an important role in the circular economy continuum. This is the second of a two-part blog series based on a thoughtful discussion between Geertjo van Dijk, Wavin European product manager Storm Water Management and Delft University associate professor Dr. Ir. Frans van de Ven.
If you want to go for climate resilience, you won't do that overnight. It takes substantial reconstruction activities; retrofitting these green infrastructure solutions is not an easy thing to do. It means you have to synchronize with reconstruction activities in your urban environment.
Climate resilience takes time
WAVIN: If we are measuring the state of climate resilience and, in particular, pluvial flood resilience – is that high enough on the agenda?
DR. VAN DE VEN: It’s on the agenda of municipalities. The question is whether they can sufficiently translate their awareness for the problem into action – into a reconstruction program.
The multi-tier stakeholder approach
DR. VAN DE VEN: So what will be the choices? That struggle between where to go and which way to go is not yet always clear for many parties. Moreover, one of the conclusions of Climate Proof Cities is that it will be very, very hard for the municipal water authorities to solve the problem on their own. They can't do that without private involvement. Part of the responsibility to create flood resilience lies with the property owner and that is, of course, a big challenge.
(left) Geertjo van Dijk, Wavin European product manager Storm Water Management interviews (right) Dr.Ir. Frans van de Ven, associate professor of Urban Water Management at the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences of Delft University of Technology and team leader Urban Land and Water Management at Deltares
Attractiveness of water management solutions
WAVIN: Is that something we could enforce through legislations – to involve private parties in this whole debate?
DR. VAN DE VEN: I tend to say “We have to use the carrot and a stick analogy.” Legislation is typically the stick in the field of enforcement and the carrot, I think, is in the attractiveness of the solutions. We spoke about creating attractive blue-green environments in our urban areas. That will bring a lot of benefits: the fact that you can reduce your energy demand for heating and cooling by using green roofs and green walls, by using water for evaporative cooling and all these sorts of solutions. I think that’s an important mission for us: we have to show private owners that they can benefit from implementing these solutions on their own property.
WAVIN: You just explained it's already quite difficult to make proper predictions and calculations regarding urban heating, droughts and pluvial flooding. And then you also have to assess the damage. How do you cope with that in a more calculated way, using software and things like that?
DR. VAN DE VEN: Interesting question. First of all, should we address only the problem or should we also address the opportunities that are brought by these new solutions? The fact is that by blue-greening our cities, we can not only get more physical resilience to climate change but we could also create more social and ecological resilience in the area. So by emphasizing the benefits of these investments, not only related to climate resilience, I think that it is important to convince parties to invest in these solutions by emphasizing the benefits of these investments, not only related to climate resilience. The largest challenge lies in the existing urban area and how to retrofit measures to create more resilience there.
WAVIN: Can you tell a little more about how the co-creative process with municipalities, water authorities and local stakeholders works? Maybe you have an example from your experience?
DR. VAN DE VEN: We have done many co-creative processes to plan for more climate resilient districs. There are many different solutions to deal with the problems and the key question is: what do the participants prefer to see and how can these solutions be integrated in the urban fabric? Intensive interaction between local stakeholders, urban water managers and urban planners, designers and landscape architects is required to answer this question. To facilitatie their dialogue we have developed several planning support tools like the Adaptation Support Tool and the Climate Adaptation App.
Alternative solutions have proven themselves
WAVIN: Based on my experience with water authorities, they are very much in favor of creating open water as a way of creating storage in the water system and worried about whether we can really trust alternative solutions like porous pavements or infiltration facilities. Can you maybe share something on how you deal with this skepticism?
DR. VAN DE VEN: Ten to fifteen years ago, I think there was good reason to question these solutions because no one investigated them properly. Where was the proof that it is going to work, and will this work effectively in ten, twenty, or thirty years’ time? So we had to come up with proof of the longevity of these systems. It was a fair question. Now that this proof is available, the situation has changed and what I see now is that water authorities are indeed willing to participate in that discussion on the applicability of blue-green solutions.
Stakeholders in the process
WAVIN: We’ve been talking about the process of co-creation and there are a lot of stakeholders involved. Who should take the lead?
DR. VAN DE VEN: I think it would be quite natural if the city takes a leading role in creating climate resilience. They are closest to the residents.
WAVIN: In that process, how should we move into action and should this not be done at local level?
DR. VAN DE VEN: This is typically something that should happen at local level. The first thing is, of course, to have all the stakeholders together around the table and to discuss what could be done, how it could be done and who should fund it. It is extremely important to do that at a very local level because then you can really talk to the participants about their street, about their district, what could be done there and see what needs to be implemented.
WAVIN: Are there any other blueprints to achieve that goal?
DR. VAN DE VEN: I am afraid not. It takes time to discuss all the issues and aspects. It takes time for the many participants to learn and understand the problems and the many different potential solutions. As only then they start seeing the benefits of these solutions. That is the starting point from which they can begin to co-create effective solutions and start making an action plan to talk about implementation. Sharing costs and benefits in a fair way are an important part of that dialogue.
Roles of the industry (Wavin)
WAVIN: How can commercial companies like Wavin contribute in such a process?
DR. VAN DE VEN: Companies like Wavin can contribute is a number of ways: (1) As knowledge provider because you have all the knowledge and overview of the systems, tools and products available on the market. (2) As capacity builder as many of these solutions depend on good installation and so the capacity to install and maintain these facilities in an appropriate way. And last but not least (3) I could imagine that the industry takes a leading role in collecting the information on how to do better by testing the performance of their solutions and by continuously improving their materials and products, showing cities and other stakeholders how to reach the best solution.
Preach the benefits of urban stormwater management; some sort of blue print
WAVIN: You've indicated that the municipality in particular should take a leading role in making cities more flood-resilient. What would you say they could start doing from tomorrow?
DR. VAN DE VEN: A lot is to be done: (1) Bring parties together –combine agendas, (2) start informing people about the many options they have, (3) start talking about solutions in a specific area. Moreover, the city could (4) create awareness of the many benefits that certain solutions could have, and (5) initiate a dialogue with the stakeholders to find the correct equilibrium of what is acceptable and what is not.
Multifunctional use of stormwater: an example
WAVIN: Do you have specific examples of that?
DR. VAN DE VEN: An example I like very much is the Arena in Tokyo, where they decided to install a 3,000 cubic meters stormwater retention tank under the seating. 1,000 cubic meters is always empty for the next storm to come in (a stormwater retention facility of that huge roof they have). The next 1,000 cubic meters is harvested stormwater used for toilet flushing. And the third 1,000 cubic meter is always full and used as a water reservoir for firefighting in the district. An example of a multifunctional reservoir that was created. I think that we have to come up with many more of these solutions in the near future. As can be seen from this example, private and public interests come together in this solution. That is a design challenge that we face in the near future.
We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Dr. van de Ven – for sharing his insight, knowledge and expertise on a topic of great importance – not only to Wavin and the stormwater management industry, but to European municipal leaders and planners and, most importantly, to the communities and neighborhoods themselves. The ability to adapt to changing climate conditions is the key to their sustainability and growth. Let’s continue the conversation.
You can watch the first part of the video interview HERE Part TWO will be uploaded to Youtube soon, stay tuned!
Download the Urban Stormwater Management Toolkit at www.wavin.com/toolkit.