Can water help our cities cope with rapid urbanization and climate change?

Professor Rob Skinner of Melbourne’s Monash University is lead educator on the free online course, “Water for Liveable and Resilient Cities.” Here, he explains the concept of water sensitive cities and why we must put water at the heart of urban design.

The waterfront in Melbourne - one of the few cities in the world to come close to being water sensitive

The impacts of rapid urbanization and climate change mean our cities are at risk of becoming “unliveable” unless we dramatically change the way we plan and design our cities – with water as a central focus. This is not idle speculation, it is a reality that we are starting to see play out in many cities around the world.

Embracing water sensitive urban design

Designing cites in a water sensitive way – cities that are liveable and resilient – means that:

  • Citizens and governments work together from the outset to develop a common vision of the liveability for their city.
  • Water for consumption by residents and industry is supplied from a range of diverse sources (not just one centralised source), to provide water security in times of drought.
  • Urban areas are more resilient to flooding.
  • Streets and open spaces are greener, and therefore cooler, and provide for community “connectedness”.
  • The ecological values of waterways and surrounding areas are protected
  • The city has a much lower carbon footprint, because the management of resources, such as water, sewage, energy and food, are fully integrated.

Achieving these water sensitive city outcomes requires city urban planners and water system planners to work together from the beginning of the planning process.

Traditionally this has not been the case – water planners have been invited to design their systems after all the other planning professions (transport, industry, energy, telecommunications, etc) have set in concrete the shape and form of the city.

Where in the world are there water sensitive cities?

Unfortunately there are no cities in the world that are yet to fulfill all the criteria of a water sensitive city (as summarized above). According to a UNESCO–IHE Institute for Water Education survey of 27 cities in 2011, a number of cities have advanced towards achieving that state, including Melbourne, Hamburg, Lodz, Zaragoza and Beijing – although all of these cities still have a considerable way to go.

How can we transition to water sensitive cities?

In our free online course, “Water for Liveable and Resilient Cities,” we’ll be exploring the concepts of “liveability” and “resilience” of cities and their water systems in some detail.

Drawing on case studies from Melbourne and around the world, we’ll ask you to apply the principles that underpin water sensitive cities in the context of the towns and cities where you live, no matter where that is in the world.

We’ll then address the ultimate question – what are the institutional, regulatory and cultural preconditions required to ensure successful transitions to water sensitive cities?

The answers to these questions have a lot to do with leadership at all levels of government and society – involving a shared commitment to developing a common vision of the type of cities we want to leave for our grandchildren.

“Water for Liveable and Resilient Cities” is an essential course if you’re thinking about the future state of the world. Join the course now or join the conversation using #FLliveablecities.

Category Learning

Comments (7)


  • Jo-Ann Giovannoni

    So sorry this course is not running again

  • John Greenhalgh

    Water is an extremely precious commodity, as someone who works in the water treatment industry as a cad designer I see the ever increasing problems that water companies throughout the UK face in providing a plentiful clean sustainable water supply. However there is still a a great deal to be done in maintaining this supply, by educating people in the cost of producing clean water for all. There seems to be a common consent that clean water is cheap to produce and plentyfull this is not the case. We need to conserve our water supply by not wasting water through leaking taps and unecessary us of hose pipes for watering lawns and washing cars. All propertys should also have water meters installed.

  • José Forjaz

    In our third world countries the main problem is that most people, even in towns, do not have enough water for their basic needs and, in most cases, the quality of the water used is not to up minimal health standards. There is a lack of awareness from the part of the authorities and a very low sensitivity to the essential importance of this problem.
    A lot must be done to raise this awareness and to correct improper practices.


  • Patricia Nayeja

    There are plenty available water resources in my country but pollution, coupled by bad policy implementation and regulation is leaving most of the water sources un usable. I pray will be able to drive an agenda of change after participation in the course, cant wait

    • Beverley Pold

      In Wales, we have some of the best water in the world and we “abuse” it and take it’s abundance for granted. Policy makers have to think in the long term – water will be the most valuable resource in the world and we need to think NOW how we plan for the future.

  • ျဖိဳးအိ

    Water is the most basically and essential things for living world. So the knowledge of water should extend from primary education.


    With industrialization in action water forms a fundamental part in facilitating industrialization as it can be used as a coolant in
    cooling down the machines furthermore it can be used in clean of the machines in an industry. Water also provide a beautiful scenery in planing of the city in addition the water ways can be used to offer transport as this would significantly help in reducing the traffic jams.