Water issues in peri-urban areas

Posted on by Dr Vanessa Speight

Spitalgate Heath Garden Village

Dr Vanessa Speight, Managing Director of TWENTY65, Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, University of Sheffield, talks about the opportunities and challenges of water management in expanding cities.

I have been attending the 2017 Peri-Urban Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, this week. Peri-urban is loosely defined as the areas outside of formal cities or urban areas, also sometimes referred to as the outskirts, hinterland, or interface between town and country. Although often considered a problem primarily for developing countries, the issues related to expansion of cities and how their water needs can be met are actually universal.

The water question for peri-urban areas is simple yet complex:  how can we provide sustainable water services in an area remote from the urban core, while recognising links to both urban and rural settings?  Because these areas are not hindered by legacy water infrastructure, peri-urban development offers the chance to pursue innovations in sustainable water management and could become the new vanguard for full water-cycle management alongside environmental amenity.  For example, community-scale rainwater harvesting could provide stormwater attenuation and supplement water supply for non-potable uses while offering a natural amenity of value to people, fish, birds, plants, and animals.

Natural wastewater treatment systems that are too land-intensive for dense urban areas are more feasible in the peri-urban. Water-efficient appliances and energy-efficient homes consume fewer natural resources, while renewable energy sources could provide the opportunity for off-grid living without sacrificing any home comforts.

The discussions at the conference have made a few things clear about peri-urban development. Careful thought across all aspects of infrastructure (not just water but also transportation, energy, etc.), policy and planning is required to make peri-urban development a success rather than a blight.

Consultation with stakeholders including current neighbours and future residents is key to understanding the best design features. But these hurdles are not insurmountable. In my opinion, peri-urban development offers our best opportunity to push the boundaries of sustainability and lead by example – are we brave enough to try?

The University of Sheffield is running a competition for its students with Saint-Gobain PAM exploring how water sustainability should be best managed in Spitalgate Heath Garden village – a new self-contained community planned on the outskirts of Grantham.

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