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Conventional and Water Sensitive Urban Development

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 1507 words Published: 4th Sep 2017

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Literature Review

The Difference between Conventional Urban Development (CUD) and Water Sensitive Urban Development (WSUD)


Urban development in cities around the world has come under constraining pressure due to population growth which leads to urban sprawl and the effects of anthropogenically induced climate change impacts on environmental ecosystems. The increase in the development of infrastructure such as impervious surfaces on roads, walkways, and public parks triggers increased flooding due to surface runoff and changes of landscapes, which adversely impact environmental ecosystems (Zhang et al., 2017). Other urban development dilemmas, as pointed out by Ercan et al., (2017), were increases in greenhouse gases (GHG) and conventional air pollution due to an increase in transportation industries. A Conventional Urban Development (CUD) approach as a solution to such glitches was introduced to control storm water and flooding, but ignored further contemplation on the carrying and receiving environment, in this case, the streams, lakes and ocean ecosystems.

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A sustainable pathway to urban development required a more holistic approach that was pertinent in capturing roles of nature in urban or city developments. According to Bell, (2015), Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) might be a solution as it exemplifies a sustainable approach to urban nature and provides a useful foundation for moving beyond drainage and into the water supply and waste water technology and discourse. This article will identify the differences between Conventional Urban Development and Water Sensitive Urban Development. Furthermore, it will elaborate on the advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches and predict an overview on the future of the integration in relation to the sustainable cities metaphor.

Comparison of Conventional Urban Development and Water Sensitive Urban Development

Conventional urban development was introduced as an engineered structure in addressing storm water management and reducing flooding in cities in most parts of the world. The approach was largely focused on flood mitigation and health protection (Fletcher et al., 2015). Roefs et al., (2017) identified three types of conventional urban development based on sanitation systems; namely, centralized, conventionally activated sludge treatment; on-site sources for separation of grey water and black water treatment; and a hybrid of both systems. Urban stormwater runoff has become a challenge for urban planners and communities at large due to the source of degradation to stream ecosystems, as it only emphasised urban stormwater runoff originating from every roof, road and car park of a city. Therefore, another approach, which is more or less an integration of the conventional urban development, was introduced as a Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD).

Water sensitive urban design is an integrated water management of water supply, wastewater and stormwater aimed at achieving multiple objectives beyond conventional or normal design and attentive on social amenities, protection of receiving waters, reduced consumption of external waters and other resources, and an improved microclimate within an urban natural environment (Walsh et al., 2016 & Sharma et al., 2016). The water sensitive urban design is widely supported by many city planners and engineers as one of the novel technologies for sustainable cities (Bell, 2015 & Sharma et al., 2016).

Pros and Cons of Water Sensitive Urban Design

Although there was an imbalance pointing more to the increased social understanding of water sensitive urban design and its benefits, there were also some contradictions in implementing the systems in many cities around the world. According to Sharma et al., (2016) & Niemczynowicz, (1999), this new principle of integrated water management required close communication by water engineers, ecologists, and municipal planners to actively participate in the planning process. Also, it was identified by the authors that there were gaps in knowledge on the technical, economic, and social and institutional aspects of the Water Sensitive Urban Design implementation. In contrast, Water Sensitive Urban Development integrates all elements of the water cycle and their interconnections to achieve results that allow a healthy environment that meets the need of human consumption, waste water and pollution, precipitation and runoff, watercourses and water resources, and floods (Ulian et al., 2017). The concept of a ‘Water Sensitive City’ is picked by many cities around the world as the option for resilience toward population growth and climate change impacts. For instance, according to Wong and Brown, (2008), the concept of a Water Sensitive City is a state goal of Australia to make every city water sensitive.


Populations will continue to grow and natural environments will continue to be affected as a result of anthropogenically induced climate change, which will lead to challenges of urban water management in urban centres around the world. Conventional Urban Development has been underpinned by the new water sensitive urban design to another level of water management in cities. The difference separating the two methods of engineering is that for Conventional Urban Development more consideration is put forward for removal of stormwater from urban areas so as to avoid flooding and to improve sanitation, while the Water Sensitive Urban Development considered removal of wastewater and was making sure that the water was controlled or cared for without adversely affecting the ecosystems. In simple terms, the Water Sensitive Urban Development (WSUD) is how urban stormwater is protected, reused, and recycled, so that the health of the ecosystems may be sustained and the goals of sustainable cities could be achieved.


Bell, S. (2015). Renegotiating urban water. Progress in planning, 96, 1-28.

Ercan, T., Onat, N. C., Tatari, O., & Mathias, J. D. (2017). Public transportation adoption requires paradigm shif[B1]t in urban development structure. Journal of Cleaner Production, 142, 1789-1799.

Fletcher, T. D., Shuster, W., Hunt, W. F., Ashley, R., Butler, D., Arthur, S., & Mikkelsen, P. S. (2015). SUDS, LID, BMPs, WSUD and more-The evolution and application of terminology surrounding urban drainage. Urban Water Journal, 12(7), 525-542.

Niemczynowicz, J. (1999). Urban hydrology and water management-present and future challenges. Urban water, 1(1), 1-14.

Roefs, I., Meulman, B., Vreeburg, J. H., & Spiller, M. (2017). Centralised, decentralised or hybrid sanitation systems? Economic evaluation under urban development uncertainty and phased expansion. Water Research, 109, 274-286.

Sharma, A. K., Pezzaniti, D., Myers, B., Cook, S., Tjandraatmadja, G., Chacko, P. … & Walton, A. (2016). Water Sensitive Urban Design: An Investigation of Current Systems, Implementation Drivers, Community Perceptions and Potential to Supplement Urban Water Services. Water, 8(7), 272.

Ulian, G., Cartes, I., & Lima, M. M. C. L. (2017). Water management assessment methodology for urban planning. Revista Ambiente and Água, 12(1), 33-46.

Walsh, C. J., Booth, D. B., Burns, M. J., Fletcher, T. D., Hale, R. L., Hoang, L. N. … & Wallace, A. (2016). Principles for urban storm water management to protect stream ecosystems. Freshwater Science, 35(1), 398-411.

Wong, T., & Brown, R. (2008, August). Transitioning to water sensitive cities: ensuring resilience through a new hydro-social contract. In 11th International Conference on Urban Drainage. September. Edinburgh. 10p.

Zhang, D., Gersberg, R. M., Ng, W. J., & Tan, S. K. (2017). Conventional and decentralized urban storm water management: A comparison through case studies of Singapore and Berlin, Germany. Urban Water Journal, 14(2), 113-124.

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