According to UN, the world’s urban population is growing and expected to double by 2050 (UN, 2018).

(Above image: Figure 1. Integrating nature-based solutions to enhance community risk resilience. The Drying Green Park, McGregor Coxall)

In many cities, water resources are further threatened by the effects of climate change and urban growth. These impact economic development while adversely affecting both the environment and the social wellbeing of communities (Moore et al., 2016).

In the face of these challenges, urban communities around the world are struggling to enhance their resilience. Flooding – exacerbated by factors such as rising sea levels, intense rainfall events, and inadequate infrastructure – is one of the risks threatening communities especially vulnerable populations.

In some countries, urban development projects result in community vulnerabilities against risk. For example, during the development of Boeng Kok, Phnom Penh in Cambodia, the drainage and hydrological systems of Phnom Penh have been dramatically transformed by megaprojects and urban development in the last few decades. The infilling of Boeng Kok and the many wetlands within and fringing Phnom Penh have damaged important socio-ecological functions (Hawken et al, 2021). Mismanagement of stormwater and rainwater will exacerbate these issues (Reynolds et al.,2020). Identifying the significance of stormwater management, in the context of climate change, is a critical step in developing sustainable interventions and mitigating the impact of these issues.

Urban design and landscape have attempted to promote effective responses to urban flooding that emphasizes the important role of transdisciplinary collaboration. There is a growing recognition of the importance of working with water by nature-based solutions in planning and design.

Research and practice experience suggest that policymakers, designers, developers and regulators should incorporate a range of environmental, social, policy and governance, and economic determinants through all stages of urban and landscape projects to promote liveable and water-resilient cities.


What is urban resilience?

Urban resilience refers to the ability of cities to withstand, adapt to, and recover from shocks and stresses while maintaining essential functions.

In the context of floods and other natural disasters, urban resilience refers to the capacity of cities to minimize vulnerabilities, enhance adaptive capacities, and foster sustainable development practices.

The management of stormwater and rainwater plays a pivotal role in enhancing urban resilience by integrating natural and engineered approaches to decrease flood risks, enhance ecosystem services, and promote community well-being.

Various factors impact the resilience of a society, depending on the cultural, social, economic, and governance context (Avazpour et al., 2023). Resilience in one context may differ from that in another context. This emphasizes the critical role of designers in facilitating the transformation of solutions to different contexts.


Why we need resilience

Population growth, rapid urbanization, impermeable surfaces, and centralised infrastructure contribute to increased flood risks in many cities (Palazzo, 2018; Hürlimann et al., 2022).

Australia is already facing extreme weather, rising sea levels, and water availability challenges due to climate change. Compared to other resources, the issues and vulnerabilities of communities associated with stormwater and rainwater, such as flooding when the capacity within the system is overwhelmed, have been underestimated (Cousins & Hill,2021).

Additionally, many urban stormwater management approaches currently being applied are within an infrastructure with short-term water runoff objectives. However, managing stormwater through conventional and sustainable infrastructure can have long-term impacts.

When it comes to communities, adaptive urban design approaches can result in enhancing their resilience. Acknowledging the potential of stormwater as a resource will bring community benefits and enhance their resilience.

Sustainable approaches, such as decentralised stormwater harvesting systems, integrating nature in urban water infrastructure, allow for the capture, treatment, and utilisation of stormwater. This not only reduces reliance on traditional water supplies but also mitigates risks associated with urban runoff, such as erosion, habitat degradation, and contamination of water bodies.

Addressing these challenges requires holistic approaches that combine engineering solutions with nature-based interventions and community engagement.


Bridging resilience with landscape projects:

To enhance urban resilience and climate change adaptation, environmental, social, and building capacity, financial, and policy aspects should be evaluated in each context.

Understanding and managing the climate change risks in projects with effective governance in place supports a resilient future. Resilient cities support communities. Social and cultural aspects play a critical role in the results of urban landscape projects, necessitating consideration of community engagement and cultural aspects at all stages. Bringing communities into this conversation and enhancing their awareness is key to the implementation and sustainability of lifelong strategies. The role of local governments in facilitating this transition is critical.

To achieve this, there should be consistent communication between stakeholders, and government in national, state and local levels.

The potential of resilience in urban communities can be impacted by implementation of nature-based solutions and adaptive planning and design in cities starts with precincts and neighbourhoods.

Local governments are encouraged to integrate sustainable landscape design and planning approaches such as:

1. Nature-Based Solutions:
Nature-based solutions (NBS) are innovative approaches that integrate nature to enhance resilience to flood and other natural disasters. These strategies provide multiple co-benefits for communities and the environment. These projects enhance water quality and biodiversity, positively impact community wellbeing, decrease urban heat, increase the quality of ecosystems and respects cultural and ecological of Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IUCN, n.d.).

2. Green Spaces and Blue Infrastructure:

Integrating green spaces and blue infrastructure such as parks, urban forests, wetlands, retention basins and green corridors only provide recreational and aesthetic benefits but also serve as natural buffers against flooding. By increasing permeable surfaces and promoting infiltration, green spaces help reduce runoff and mitigate flood risks.

3. Adaptive Urban Design Principles:

These principles emphasize adaptive planning, flexible infrastructure, and mixed-use developments that minimize exposure to flood risks and enhance adaptive capacity.

Designing buildings and infrastructure to withstand flooding, elevating critical facilities above flood levels, and incorporating flood-resistant materials are essential strategies for reducing vulnerability.

Planning walkable neighbourhoods and mixed-income housing developments can foster social cohesion and reduce socio-economic disparities in flood-prone areas.

4. Community Engagement and Capacity Building:

Effective resilience-building efforts require active participation and engagement from local communities.

Engaging communities in all stages of landscape and urban projects fosters a sense of belonging to the neighbourhood. Educating communities, and capacity-building programs can enhance awareness of flood risks, promote preparedness measures, and strengthen social networks. Empowering vulnerable communities, including low-income households and marginalized groups, is essential for ensuring that resilience-building efforts are inclusive and equitable.

One of the examples of bringing nature-based solutions in urban development project and integrating multifunctional urban design into the urban precincts is 6,400m2 Green Square Drying Green Park designed by McGregor Coxall.

The project stands as an urban wetland and park located in Gadigal Country within Green Square, Sydney. The park is an interpretation of the original wetland systems that characterized the south Sydney landscape more than 200 years ago. The urban area has been redeveloped over several decades transformed from a flood-prone, post-industrial cluster into an intense mixed-use centre. The park contributes to the flood resilience through a tiered arrangement of wetlands that treat and harvest storm water along Zetland Avenue and Portman Street.


(Figure 2. The Drying Green Park, McGregor Coxall)

A roadmap to disaster-Resilient communities:

Given the impacts of climate challenges, building adaptive and resilient cities to withstand hazards requires nature-based approaches.

By integrating green and blue infrastructure, naturalizing rivers and floodplains, and embracing innovative nature-based solutions, cities can effectively mitigate flood risks while enhancing biodiversity, social cohesion, and quality of life.

However, achieving true resilience requires holistic planning, community engagement, and long-term investment in sustainable infrastructure and practices.

The below roadmap indicates the initiatives to community resilience:

1. Estimation/evaluating of the capacity of the cities through empowering research on the risk resilience. This can help to map the urban development and model some future scenarios to control and adapt to risk.
2. Control the current condition and enhance awareness.
3. Improving/enhancing resilience through mitigating and minimizing risk
4. Monitoring and evaluation for next steps

To implement this road map and enhance positive implementation outcomes, the initiatives are required by decision makers, researchers and practitioners in design and planning:

• Facilitating collaborative and multidisciplinary communication among stakeholders (government agencies, community organizations, and private stakeholders).
• Enhancing technical capacity and innovative approaches by developing tools and standards for evaluating projects and indicating benchmarks.
• Building capacity by enhancing stakeholders’ knowledge and facilitating community engagement through workshops, events, focus groups, and training sessions.
• Developing comprehensive land use planning, zoning regulations, and building codes to prevent development in flood-prone areas.
• Developing monitoring and maintenance guidelines and implementing regular reporting structures to facilitate knowledge sharing and evaluation process.
• Allocating budgets to local governments to implement nature-based and green infrastructure projects across Local Government Areas (LGAs) and within LGAs.
• Developing cost-benefit analysis of the projects for further development.


Avazpour, B., Osmond, P., & Corkery, L. (2023). The dynamic challenges of mainstreaming water sensitive cities in our built environment: Lessons from Australia. Cities, 143, 104615.
Cousins, J. J., & Hill, D. T. (2021). Green infrastructure, stormwater, and the financialization of municipal environmental governance. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 23(5), 581–598.
IUCN. (n.d.), Nature-based Solutions for climate, Nature-based Solutions for climate | IUCN
Hawken, S., Avazpour, B., Harris, M. S., Marzban, A., & Munro, P. G. (2021a). Urban megaprojects and water justice in Southeast Asia: Between global economies and community transitions. Cities, 113, 103068.
Hurlimann, A., Hemphill, E., McKay, J., & Geursen, G. (2008). Establishing components of community satisfaction with recycled water use through a structural equation model. Journal of Environmental Management,88(4), 1221–1232
Moore, T. L., Gulliver, J. S., Stack, L., & Simpson, M. H. (2016). Stormwater management and climate change: vulnerability and capacity for adaptation in urban and suburban contexts. Climatic Change, 138(3–4), 491–504.
Palazzo, E. (2018). From water sensitive to floodable: defining adaptive urban design for water resilient cities. Journal of Urban Design, 35, (6), 1–21.
Reynolds, H.L., Brandt, L., Fischer, B.C., Hardiman, B.S., Moxley, D.J., Sandweiss, E., Speer, J.H. and Fei, S. (2020). Implications of climate change for managing urban green infrastructure: an Indiana, US case study. Climatic Change, 163, 1967-1984.


By Dr Behnaz Avazpour (submitted on behalf of Australian Institute of Landscape Architects)


Behnaz is a qualified architect and landscape architect with over 17 years of diverse industry experience complemented by a decade of academic involvement as an educator and researcher. Behnaz holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Built Environment specialising in water sensitive urban design (WSUD) and green infrastructure. She has significantly contributed to various research initiatives at esteemed institutions, including UNSW, the University of Sydney, and the University of Melbourne’s Sustainable Healthy Environment (SHE) Lab. She led the implementation of research investigations for an ARC research project on promoting healthy built environment through architectural design, biophilic integration and technology. Behnaz’s passion for urban sustainability is evident in her commitment to enhancing healthy built environments, underscoring her dedication to creating liveable, sustainable, and resilient spaces that foster well-being and environmental stewardship.


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