World Water Day 2021: Valuing water in our cities

Historically, cities have thrived due to their proximity to water. Considered as a valuable resource to urban development, water provides means for food, transportation, trade, sanitation, and even communal recreation. However, its significance is often taken for granted as many of today’s numerous hydrological issues – water scarcity, water pollution, groundwater depletion, and the impacts of climate change – are consequences of its mismanagement and exploitation.

Since 1993, the United Nations has designated March 22 as World Water Day, which aims to raise awareness of the global water crisis we face and the need for society to take action. This year’s theme of “Valuing Water” urges us to reflect on the value of water beyond its cost. While millions across the world still struggle with lack of access to clean water especially in the time of a pandemic, there is an urgent need to integrate and strengthen the importance of water at all dimensions of planning and governance with more long-term and sustainability-driven approaches.

As we join in on this celebration, our experts at enCity share their insights on the value of water in our cities. They discuss its role in various urban aspects, from landscape and infrastructure to policy and water resource management, and how we can further realize its importance in urban planning and design.

Dr. Ho Long Phi (Managing Director, Expert on Water Management & Climate Change Adaptation):

“Not every one of us can see all the benefits provided by water including its economic, socialand ecological dimensions. Multiple values to different groups and interests usually result inconflicts in water use, and decisions affecting water are often inequitable, non-transparent andexclusive.

Governance of watersheds, rivers, aquifers, associated ecosystems and recycled water flows requires multi-stakeholder involvement. For that, initiatives to promote education and awareness among all stakeholders about the intrinsic value of water and its irreplaceable role in all aspects of life are essential.

As human beings are under the disruptive threat of climate change, floods and drought can possibly occur at the same site. Both benefits and risks derived from water require innovative solutions to harmonize.”

Heather Banerd (Associate, Integrated Design):

“Water is an inherent part of the landscape. The discourse around bringing green infrastructure into our cities and as well as preserving or restoring ecological networks often overlooks that water is an essential component of this. It has a symbiotic relationship with greenery – each enhances the other, and together they bring immeasurable value to urban spaces, from health benefits to microclimate and climate adaptation. There is a growing recognition of this among our clients and partners, which is exciting from a design perspective as we are able to explore these strategies in our projects. In our award-winning North Dalat Master Plan, for example, we designed a beautiful wetland corridor running north-south through the site, that collects stormwater runoff and filters it as it runs down to the central lake. This creates a strong blue-green spine that anchors the master plan and provides really enjoyable public spaces along the corridor.”

Hai Pham (Principal, Infrastructure + Planning):

“Water is the primary factor through which we will feel the effects of climate change. Climate change is leading to an increased occurrence of extreme rains and precipitation. In addition, rapid urbanization increases the area of the concrete surface and reduces space for water storage and permeability. This leads to raised flow rates that will cause local inundation in case of heavy rains, especially when high tide takes place at the same time. To deal with these extreme situations, it is not enough to just rely on costly grey infrastructure solutions; there is a need for green infrastructure to develop a sustainable urban environment. One of our projects, The Riverside Community, is a prime example wherein a comprehensive open-space structure was designed in combination with green infrastructure that made streets a seamless part of the system.”

Minh Nguyen (Associate, Water Resources and Environment & GIS):

“Without water, there is no life. However, across Asian cities, natural water bodies are being threatened by untreated sewage and domestic waste, as the result of rapid and uncontrolled urbanization.  Our planning strategies can integrate water resources into the landscape, so that water is seen not just as a means for consumption or as something to be safely evacuated from during disasters, but as playing an important role in ecosystems, and therefore needs to be conserved and protected.”

South Hai Duong Eco Sports Town – A project of enCity

We also look back on some of our previous projects where water played a vital role in shaping our plans and designs. Whether it stems from geographical constraints, socio-economic context, or sustainability goals, these projects go beyond highlighting the value of water to leverage its functional, ecological, economic, and cultural importance in building successful developments.

Ben Tre Strategic Plan

As one of the most fertile areas in Vietnam, Ben Tre relies on water for its success in agriculture and tourism but is currently under threats of saline intrusion, land subsidence, and rising sea levels. Preserving the province’s strong identity, enCity, together with Roland Berger, formulated a strategic plan that would transform Ben Tre into a green and liveable city in harmony with nature and water.

South Hai Duong Sports Town 

Utilizing the existing agricultural canals within the site, enCity’s design for South Hai Duong harnesses water as part of the open space system, which links important public buildings and creates a walkable environment for communities.

Eastern Hue Eco Township

Set in a low-lying area susceptible to annual flooding, the Eastern Hue Eco-Township exemplifies how the impacts of climate change can be mitigated through the innovative use of integrated landscapes that also add commercial and cultural value to the development.

For more information on World Water Day 2021, please visit the official website here: https://www.worldwaterday.org/