What could designers of the built environment be doing in Wales to tackle flooding?

Lindsey Brown, urban designer at Sustrans and DCFW Hatch member considers flood risk and how our approach to street design can help.

To help us tackle flooding we need to use our urban designers better and change the way in which we view and approach street design.  Streets and roads should not be designed only as channels for movement, but as places in their own right.  Designed well, streets can be multi-functional, not only helping us to manage the flow of water at a local level, but to be attractive, social spaces that encourage interaction and activity.  Properly considered Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDS) – rain gardens, permeable paving and other forms of attenuation – can slow water run-off, helping to reduce flood risk, assist traffic calming and create a more attractive street scene for visitors and residents to enjoy.

Sustrans Green Streets Lambeth

Green Streets, Lambeth: Sustrans community-led street design. Image courtesy of Sustrans

So how do we change the approach to street design here in Wales and create streets that can help us tackle flooding? The Active Travel Act (Wales) 2013, introduced in November 2013, is a world-first in terms of legislation, aiming to get more of us walking and cycling for everyday journeys.  Part of the approach is linked to building better infrastructure, including homezones and shared spaces.  Interventions such as these not only create more opportunities for walking and cycling, but also for urban green infrastructure like rain gardens, filter beds and tree planting.  They provide an opportunity to counter the very real problem of hard surface run-off, endemic to most urban areas.  Even better, the principles can be applied in both retrofit and new development scenarios.

Taking a holistic design approach alongside smaller urban interventions can work alongside larger flood prevention schemes.  SUDS can form part of a system that will not only help us to manage water better, but help create a sense of place and improve our wellbeing.

Lindsey Brown has an MA in Urban Design and is Area Manager (Cities) at Sustrans Cymru.  She is actively involved in DCFW’s Hatch network for fresh-thinking shapers of the built environment in Wales.