Auckland water-based design: growing the blue corridor


After seeing the images of the bright purple dye spill in the waterway in a creek of the upper Manukau Harbour, I thought to present a counter view on how a water intelligent city may look, check out this great video made by Melbourne’s team on Water Sensitive Cities and how they imagine Melbourne to look in the future through the implementation of blue corridors and water sensitive design Water Sensitive Cities

Many cities in the world are waking up to this need for thinking through the city as a catchment zone. In a recent talk on TED Canberra Professor Tony Wong of Melbourne’s Water Sensitive Cities shared the interesting graph showing that the cities of Australia generate more stormwater than they currently use in fresh water and so the mere treatment of existing rainflows is a much more cost effective model of optimizing the supply of the resource than an expensive energy draining desalination model. Other leading practitioners in our region designing cutting edge water-based infrastructure are landscape architect Kelly Shannon’s work in Vietnam, Kongjian Yu of Turenscape in China, and Architects Team 3 in Singapore, all who prioritise new hydro infrastructure by designing ecological landscapes that create blue corridors as living drainage ecosystems, integrating phytoremediation through rain gardens, swale systems, bio filters, green walls and roofs to filter stormwater and additionally offset climate extremes, all existing within highly aesthetic public spaces. Imagining heat recovery not as an isolated system for individual buildings but creating an urban scale system that captures passive heat generation and uses it to heat water also. This ability for the ecological landscape to multitask is the compelling model of the 21st century urbanism. So why does Auckland perpetuate the hydrological model of the modernist era that is routinely being breached and exposed as redundant within the current climatic scenario.

The freshly proposed $800 million dollar spend on a new piece of hydro infrastructure project for Auckland – termed the ‘central interceptor project’ by Watercare’s design engineers – provides a cogent moment for Aucklanders and New Zealanders to reflect upon the critical resource of twenty-first century cities, urban water. The optimum goal of good urban design is human well being and the management of water is fundamental to that outcome. According to Watercare, the CIP is designed to alleviate potential overflow contamination into the Waitemata and urban waterways in an extreme weather event, while also replacing deteriorating hardware on the existing western network. The Central Interceptor Project is largely an underground drainage system set within a linear network of concrete pipes. Yet certain urban bloggers have pointed out, recent works in the former North Shore City addressed similar problems at a fraction of the cost by building reservoir delay tanks. While it’s obvious that Watercare have worked hard to design a solution to an increasingly waterlogged urban environment and the seepage of contamination in urban waterways, it would be great if they took a look at some of our neighbours new hydroinfrastructure instead of bringing back the ghosts of modernist hydrology. Auckland is not alone in having to consider that the erratic extremes of the 21st century climate is causing a big rethink on the delivery of core infrastructure especially when it comes to water.

The main limitation of the Central Interceptor Project is that in the event of an extreme weather incident, untreated water will be exercised as quickly as possible from the urban fabric and will enter the Manukau Harbour adding more stress to its self sustaining capacity and exacerbating the already compromised water quality. While this is devastating news to the inhabitants of the harbour and local fishermen, the CIP also represents a lost opportunity to the people of Auckland as a city and to its designers and urban creatives. If the design followed the principles of the cutting edge design principles of leading world projects such as the Water Sensitive Cities project then it would see the interceptor project as the opportunity to provide a blue corridor through the city, and money being spent on concrete pipes could instead be utilised by landscape architects, arborists, architects and other savvy urban creatives to deliver a rich public space that is simultaneously a moving remediation zone, rich in biodiversity, cultural, recreational and aesthetic values. It would allow the city to also perpetuate the programme of remediation begun during the Twin Streams Project in West Auckland and teh work of locals in restoring Oakley Creek.So why is Auckland so far off the game to the cutting edge of water-based design. Does our privitization model of water management preclude strong public lobbying in its sector ?

For many the Manukau Harbour is only glimpsed from the airport motorway on the way to somewhere else, but it is a migration zone to hundreds of thousands of seabirds every year, a once abundant source of kaimoana, the site of ancient stonefields, and is rich in both Maori and Pakeha history. It is the primary waterscape for the people of both west and south Auckland who share it with the residents of Onehunga, Hillsborough, and Blockhouse Bay. For those of us lucky enough to live on the Manukau, it is our deeply beloved inland sea, its tidal rhythms synchronise with our own biorhythmic currents, the harbour belongs to us as our living habitat and we belong to it as its guardians or kaitiaki. It deserves its urban outflows to have been treated through a rich matrices of biofilters and settlement so as to sustain its vivid living ecologies for Aucklanders today and for the future.

Increasingly the cities of today are defined by oscillations between flood and drought. Yet there are precedents for today’s conditions in the cities of South East Asia that discovered a way to work with the rhythmic movement between the monsoon and the dry season by capturing the excess, which was seen as a gift from the gods, within an intricate capillary system of urban canals, water gardens, reservoirs and ponds. By capturing excess those cities were able to store water and release it back gradually into the water ways in the dry season. With climate change the idea of the city as a distributed reservoir has a certain potent intelligence.

Can the Manukau Harbour really sustain the big hits the CIP is designed to send its way. Could it be that the huge revenue outlay to the CIP could instead be focused on turning the Manukau Harbour into a phytoremediation zone and wetlands and state-of-the-art aeration systems are employed to mitigate against the hazardous spaces on its perimeter. We would do well to take a look at the way Singapore’s masterplan prioritises the capture of urban water to overcome its dependence on Malaysia for water supply. The ABC masterplan A for Active, B for Beautiful, and C for Clean sets out to think of every horizontal surface of the city as a collection point for water, and a distributed public space rich in social, ecological and economic benefits.

Jacquie Clarke

Jacquie is an urban theorist, writer and environmental designer and completed her PhD in Architecture in 2012. Her subject is liquid urbanism. She currently has a research position in the Urban Laboratoire AMP ­ (Architecture, Milieu, Paysage) at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris-La Villette in Paris, France.

Tony Wong on Water Sensitive Cities

Check out Irina Yann


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