What is Water Sensitive Urban Design

Most modern cities built in the last few centuries have been developed around rivers or coastlines. Water management for those cities was hidden underground. Now with Water Scarcity, and rising sea levels, there is a new way of using water as part of the development. It’s called Water Sensitive Urban Design. What is Water Sensitive Urban Design?

Water-sensitive urban design (WSUD) is a land planning & engineering design approach that integrates the urban water cycle, including stormwater, groundwater & wastewater management, & water supply, into urban design to minimize environmental degradation & improve aesthetic and recreational appeal.

This new methodology treats water more like a natural resource that can solve water problems by building natural solutions into the planning and functioning of the city as it’s being built or added afterward.


What is Water Sensitive Urban Design


By changing the way we think about urban designs of communities and cities and water management, we will be able to help solve the problems of water shortage, flooding, and pollution while using the natural water cycle to do it. In the past building, a city would cause an environmental impact on the surrounding areas of the community. This new way of thinking harnesses the potential that water can contribute and uses in the design of the city.

In a natural system, rainwater is intercepted by plants and soil that act like a sponge and then used to keep the soil wet and hydraulic flows under control. The Types of vegetation, soils, topography, and land use all significantly affect the natural hydrological cycle with resulting changes in the frequency, volume, and duration of runoff.

It provides a habitat for insects and birds and improves water quality by the natural filtering ability of pollutants. It has many of the same functional abilities that can be used within the urban area that can perform the same processes designed and planned in that environment.

As we move into the future we will see the population of the earth increase at least twice what it is now and the cities that we built sprawl significantly. The environmental concerns they cause and the Climate change that is on our horizon.

Water Sensitive Urban Design is a philosophy that embraces natural processes in the way we manage water in the city. One problem urban areas deal with is hard coverings like roadways and parking lots, or any less permeable surface that doesn’t retain water.

In a Water Sensitive Design city, natural green space and vegetation are retained in strategic areas that are developed inside the city. These green spaces along with soil help with the natural filtering process and hydraulic control that would be found outside where the hard surfaces of the city don’t exist.

What researchers see is that the growing population will cause an Urban squall that will give this type of philosophy a chance to succeed or fail in the near future. The definition of WSUD varies among practitioners across the world; the definition provided by the National Water Initiative ‘the integration of urban planning with the management, protection and conservation of the urban water cycle, that ensures urban water management is sensitive to natural, hydrological and ecological processes’   *Source–(National Water Commission, 2004)

Water Sensitive Urban Design Consultants


Water Sensitive Urban Design Consultants are the engineers, specialists, and visionaries that can bring the philosophy of Water Sensitive Design one step further to city planners, builders, architects, landscape designers, and specialists that will create a city that will function as a piece of the ecological landscape.

Space will be able to deliver ecological services inside the city. The Consultants will help implement the designs and make them a reality. Promote economically efficient, practical solutions that consider total lifecycle cost and value to the community.  Guide development so multiple social, cultural, and environmental functions co-exist with each other and function together.

Water management will be run on top of the city rather than underground. New systems will be added to old parts of the city. The new type of building will be included in the planning of add-ons to existing structures. That will take expertise in different areas of Stormwater, water reuse, and water quality among others.

Hydraulic scientists along with biochemists control the permeable system that the city will be built into. This requires new approaches which in turn come out of an integrated strategy based on a multi-dimensional approach to solve the problem. It’s a methodology that treats Water more as a natural resource that will be utilized rather than pumped into storm sewers back into the river and the ocean.

The main objectives

  • Improve stormwater management
  • Protects or enhances water quality in downstream environments
  • Reduces the incidence of frequent nuisance flood events
  • Improves Urban Rainwater Harvesting
  •  Improves the visual and ecological amenities of sites and streets
  •  Reduces potable water use
  • Improves urban ecology and habitat
  • Provides passive irrigation to green infrastructure supporting passive cooling and landscape interest
  •  Celebrates water within the urban context to provide education and pride of place. There will be issues that lie ahead as the philosophy is put in place but some of the ideas are already functioning in urban areas and have been for some time.

Some Unknown Issues:

  • Lack of technical understanding in the construction, and daily operation
  • The importance of some of the critical components, such as soils and vegetation to long-term performance is still unknown.
  • Adjustment to standard maintenance requirements of drainage assets.
  • Need for strategic planning to optimize opportunities and cost-benefit ratios that should be learned over time.
  • Challenges with quantifying intangible benefits
  • Public perception of increased pest habitats

Rain Water Harvesting Methods


There are a number of projects and plans that will use these Water Sensitive principles that are on the drawing board for now and ready to be built into the landscape of the city.

We also need to bring ecological landscapes back into the cities. That would mimic nature and the functions that forests and wetlands provide. Along with green open spaces to help clean our cities with just nature creating healthy waterways and open spaces outside the urban areas. A system as in green strips built along the side of paved roads. Stormwater will run off the paved roads onto the green strip that is built beside them and the water is filtered protecting the urban environment in a natural sustainable process. 

  1. Stormwater in cities is dealt with in the opposite way of thinking today. Roadways are paved high in the center and lower on both sides to drain stormwater off the roads to prevent flooding.  If Stormwater running through the city can be cleaned by wetlands and green spaces that are built into the city for this purpose. Using the functionality of the green space instead of just using it for aesthetic value is wasting what its purpose is. Private and public sites used by residents can collect, retain, treat, reuse and discharge clean water in a number of ways:
  1. Rain Gardens-occur within urban plazas and laneways to both improve stormwater runoff quality and visually augment these spaces naturally.
  2. Tree Pits-The majority of these tree pits site-wide filter stormwater run-off from roads and footpath pavements that are collected from stormwater.
  3.  Roof Water Storage Ponds- that are used Park spaces within the site has been designed to accommodate storage tanks and/or ponds for site-wide retention, and re-use in irrigation. They contribute to the overall functionality and values of the urban system and new philosophy in healthy waterways and stormwater management.


Buildings can be included in the ecological landscape of the city. Green landscapes can be built as vertical green gardens built into the roofs of houses, apartments, and buildings. Cleaner healthier water is filtered as it moves down off the roofs of these structures and added to the city’s stormwater.

Rooftop gardens are not a completely new system and cities in India have been doing it for a while now successfully creating food-saving energy and using space in a sustainable way using old wasted spaces and bringing together communities even making some money on the side.


Rooftop Vertical Gardening- gives the possibility of growing crops in wasted space of a rooftop that can deliver an abundance of fresh, healthy vegetables with the hydroponic equipment that can be outfitted together minimizing the need for land and space to make an Urban rooftop garden.

There is also proof that in places like India, the green spaces on top of the building have a cooling effect on the city and can save energy by this. By maintaining the water and the added shade it can dissipate the radiant heat around the hot building in the city.

When the green space are linked throughout the city they create green and blue corridors. This will create bio-diversity all through the urban landscape that is capable of productive landscapes like a garden or orchards eight in the middle of the city.

Green walls- A Greenwall is a soil-less garden vertical garden grown on the surface of a built structure designed to mimic the growing conditions found in nature. Can also be used to filter gray water that can be reused in apartments and large buildings in the middle of the city.

It functions much the way a rooftop insulates the building from the heat and uses the space to produce and clean the air. They are called Bio-walls, Living Walls, or Green Facades have a natural ability to reduce noise pollution and cool building material that normally absorb and generate their own heat adding to the temperature of the area.




Modular Green Walls can be

  • Pre-grown in an offsite location at farms then brought in to be installed
  • Aesthetic appeal
  • A great way to bring the outside in
  • Great for outdoor areas where space is in demand
  • Lower energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Increases the thermal performance of buildings (lowering energy costs)
  • Positive effects on Hydrology and improved water-sensitive urban design (WSUD)
  • Improves air quality
  • Reduces noise pollution
  • Increases urban biodiversity

Water Sensitive Urban Design Course


Innovators of future Water Sensitive designs teach that architects, builders, and planners have a responsibility to know about our changing world with new problems that a sustainable world can solve. It’s called Biomimicry.

If we take the lead from nature, it can show us the answer and that’s the philosophy of Water Sensitive Urban Design.  A sustainable way of living outside of the city has answers to problems that we have in urban landscapes. Biomimicry is the application of natural design to solve human problems. 

Courses designed to teach new builders and architects to use cohesion and integrate new development with nature have been used in some places in the last 20 years usually on projects large and innovative that blur the line between architecture and nature.

Urban design is typically taught at American universities as a two or three-year program. But some people want to make it more accessible to architects and city planners that are already involved with the city government

What this means is landscape developers and architects need to know more about their ecological system and their use in our constructed spaces in the future. It means that the new design philosophy of Water Sensitive Design will be the task of Architectural landscape designers who already work for cities.

They will be a huge link in the influence of city planners and builders to show the way of the future. The future where they can be leaders make more money and create the discipline necessary to acclimate the process. Ensuring the health of our planet and a future for our kids.

Courses on disciplines created by the governments of China and India already using it. As most people are aware of the water scarcity in India, they have excelled in the area of sustainable urban water management aimed at mainstreaming reforms and capacity building of state/city officials and published  A Water Sensitive Urban Design Book called Practitioner’s Guide on Water Sensitive Urban Design and Planning.


The CRCWSC is an Australian research center, which envisions future cities and towns, and their regions, to be sustainable, resilient, productive, liveable, and water sensitive. The center brings together many disciplines, world-renowned subject matter experts, and industry thought leaders who want to revolutionize urban water management in Australia and overseas. These are the leading resources that support water-sensitive cities that want to make the transition.

Another Water Sensitive Water Urban Design course is called eWater (Evolving water management) that have written new software for its Standards. Their program is based on results in Australia and New South Wales and has also used some of the ideas.



The best part of new ideas is to make them available to everyone of every age and every background. This new idea is making itself available to people by some folks who really care and offer education for little or hardly anything.

The cost to signup here at Planet Citizen Courses and it’s free. The design tools are free to download online and you can get an introduction course online by signing up at the website. The idea is to get interested going by letting people see that it is very possible and has exciting potential.



JimGalloway Author/Editor




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