The global trend towards increased urbanisation shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, it is still accelerating.
Fifty per cent of the world’s population live in cities, a figure that is projected to rise to 75% by 2050. Worldwide there are 425 metropolitan centres with populations of over 1M, and this number is expected to rise to 650 by 2025.
While urbanisation can bring benefits, it also brings serious challenges, including climate change, food security, health, energy, water resources, poverty and inequality. “Urbanisation is increasing through a combination of population growth and migration,” explains Stantec strategy director David Smith.
“But there is the challenge of scarce resources – particularly food, energy and water. Cities are often in places that compound that challenge.”
He adds: “We are also having to consider climate change, which will have a huge impact on cities, a lot of which are in coastal regions.
‘With sea level rise and storms intensifying you can see how vulnerable some of these cities are.”
“However, cities are in a very good place to respond to that challenge, because they can look at things within their boundaries and adopt an integrated approach,” says Smith, who predicts that we will see the emergence of new approaches that address the challenges of urban resilience and security as a system-wide set of interrelated services and capabilities.
At city level, he says, the boundaries between energy, water and food production can be blurred and even disappear, to be replaced by highly integrated, holistic strategies focused on resilience and innovation.
Stantec technical director Adrian Johnson adds: “Resilience can be a driver for a decentralised approach, where communities have more involvement. There will always be a need for some sort of centralised decision making, but it might be more effective to make decisions at community level about things like reusing and recycling water or having local energy generation, which provide resilience when centralised systems fail.”
Johnson says: “Increasingly those involved in providing and maintaining urban infrastructure need to put communities at the heart of their decision-making.
“If we are going to tackle some of the issues we face in infrastructure, we need to see more collaboration at the local level – even within cities. In the United States they manage infrastructure at city level – everything comes under the mayor. But here provision is divided by the local authority, the water utility and the energy utility, and it is much more difficult to get collaboration across these boundaries.”
Smith agrees: “In the UK we do tend to work in our own spaces with our own responsibilities – whether that is an energy company, a transport group or the council.
“We try to consult with all the stakeholders but what we need is a way of bringing all the stakeholders together and putting all their ideas into a grand masterplan for a region or city or urban area. We should be doing it as a team, and trying to solve the big problems together.”
He explains that, in North America, “charrettes” have become popular as a way of identifying a shared vision for development in a city or region. A charrette is a form of meeting or workshop where all the stakeholders get together and thrash out what they are trying to achieve and how each of the different stakeholders plays its part within that vision.
Stantec is very experienced in running these events, and is starting to introduce them to the UK. Earlier this year Hull’s Living With Water partnership held a charrette that resulted in a very clear vision for making the city more resilient (see box).
“If we are going to meet the challenges of resilience, a multi-stakeholder solution is much more viable,” says Smith. “Each stakeholder ends up with their own projects, but they are much more joined up.”
Smith says that it is much easier to build an integrated sustainable world in a small community or a new urban area or city; it is a far bigger challenge in existing cities, which makes it even more important to have a masterplan that meets the needs of all stakeholders: “In an existing city, where infrastructure is replaced as you need to and as you can afford to, having this masterplan and a shared vision is much more important.”
But, says Johnson, there is great scope for integrating infrastructure solutions on individual redevelopment sites within a city to maximise benefits.
He cites London’s Opportunity Areas such as Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea and Old Oak Common in London – both huge brownfield redevelopment sites – as examples where initiatives like removing surface water from the combined sewer will both improve resilience and provide wider benefits in terms of improvements to people’s health and wellbeing.
“This is happening more and more as people realise the implications of some of these challenges and their potential impact,” says Smith. “And this community approach is gathering momentum. There’s a change in society: people want to be part of the solution – certainly the younger generation does. And that’s having a very positive impact.”
Johnson adds: “A community-centred approach is likely to result in more efficiency and a better understanding of what customers think of as value for money.”
The Republic of Seychelles in the Indian Ocean is typical of many developing island states facing the challenges of growing population, demographic change, increased wealth, and the impact of climate change – all of which are putting a strain on water supply and sanitation. An unfavourable topography contributes to the challenge, with steep mountains making water storage difficult, and water having to be pumped to population centres on the plains and coastal strips.
Seychelles: Water resource plan
In 2014 the Seychelles government appointed Stantec to develop a water strategy that could address the rising demand. “We started by trying to look at what these issues were: things like water supply efficiency, water demand management, the current supply system, where the supply-demand deficits are, and what the options are; and then we came up with a resource efficiency plan,” explains Stantec technical director Evan Dollar.
“But during that process we were also talking with lot of stakeholders, and we were involved in a charrette. Another consultant was working with the government looking at a masterplan for the whole island, and we were part of that – looking at how does water feed into the wider issue,” he adds.
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“The island also has major issues with energy. There are some wind turbines, but the majority of the power comes from a big diesel plant fuelled by imported diesel. If that goes down, they have major supply disruptions,” Dollar continues. “And most of the food has to be imported.
“We proposed a new water policy and Act, but we did it in a very integrated way. There was a lot of stakeholder engagement when we were setting out the policy objectives; and joining up water, energy and food was important to everyone. That is probably the most useful thing we did: bringing people together and creating a framework for going forward.”
Stantec has since won the contract to develop a comprehensive sanitation masterplan. “There is real recognition that they have to deal with water supply and sanitation and energy and food together,” says Dollar. “We have tried to embed a whole circular economy approach, which means looking at things like reusing wastewater, getting energy from sludge, and tying in with the agricultural sector.”
The company is also helping the Seychelles government look at how to deal with – and adapt to – climate change in the coastal areas. “We started off with a relatively small project and identified what the key issues were, then brought in people from around the world who are looking at things in a systems way – understanding the connectivity between water, energy, food and transport,” says Dollar. “Now they can start to identify areas where investment in one area has benefits to another.”
Open Hearth Park
The Sydney Tar Ponds in Nova Scotia were once the site of one of the largest steel plants in North America—and one of the most contaminated sites in Canada.
When it closed, the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency set out to turn the site into useable space that would reconnect three divided neighbourhoods and turn them back into a community.
The result, Open Hearth Park, features waterfront access, multi-use paths, fields, outdoor performance areas, an adventure playground, two pedestrian bridges, and nearly 51ha of wildlife habitat. The park celebrates the community’s rich history through seven themes, and includes salvaged relics from the steelworks, renovated rail cars, and sculptures.
Stantec’s environmental specialists monitored remediation, and its landscape architects and engineers designed all the park’s elements to meet the strict geotechnical requirements for the site’s remediated cap.
All foundations, utilities, and landscape elements had to be constructed with newly placed soils. Local slag material was used to create landforms and as the base for roads and paths, reducing the project cost substantially.
The result is an ecologically and seasonally diverse park with a highly resilient landscape, perfectly suited to manage storm water and provide a natural solution that enhances the community.
Stantec’s Merger with MWH
Stantec gained a significant presence in the UK consultancy sector when it merged with MWH in 2016.
Integration between the two companies is now complete, and from 1 January 2018 the combined company in the UK will be known as Stantec.
Worldwide, Stantec employs 22,000 people in 400 locations across six continents, and is one of the fastest growing multi-sector design firms in the world.
The merger with MWH consolidated Stantec’s position as a global leader in water resources infrastructure, while reinforcing
its North America business and giving it a presence in key geographies, including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South and Central America, Europe and the Middle East.
As a result of the acquisition, UK clients will now have access to a broader, cross-sector service that is geared towards tackling industry challenges such as community and customers, resilience, affordability, and creativity and innovation.
Hull: Coordinated Flood Alleviation plan
In the 2007 floods, Hull was one of the worst hit cities in the UK. It remains at the top of the list for vulnerability to flooding.
A report into the 2007 event concluded that four major organisations – the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water, Hull City Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council – all had responsibilities for flood alleviation in the area, but they were not working together.
As a result, the four organisations decided to start to work more closely and share knowledge while delivering projects. This year, they decided to create a long term partnership that takes a fresh, integrated approach to addressing flood risk by developing sustainable solutions that provide wider benefits to the local community and economy.
“Ten years after the 2007 floods there has been a great deal of progress on flood resilience in Hull, but climate change means the goalposts are constantly moving and we need to think differently about how we approach the challenge,” explains Yorkshire Water director of asset management Nevil Muncaster.
“We cannot continue to simply build bigger and bigger sewers, we need to look at more sustainable solutions,” he adds.
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“This is about putting civil back into civil engineer. We need to work with communities to design and create solutions that enhance their lives, seeking opportunities to provide multiple benefits rather than siloed outputs.”
“The history of Hull & Haltemprice is tied to the opportunities for connectivity and trade offered by the water environment, but over the years the city has moved away from those roots. We want to work with communities to rediscover the city’s relationship with water and shape a successful, sustainable city that is ready for the future,” he adds.
Hull’s unique level of risk comes from the fact that pretty much all water in the city essentially drains into Yorkshire Water’s sewer system.
“One solution would be to build more tunnels and bigger pumps, but the cost would be huge,” explains Muncaster. “And that would not solve the problem, just mitigate the impact.”
He says the answer is to develop “blue green” solutions that provide wider benefits to the local community, such as access to green space, improved air quality and biodiversity, delivered in partnership with the other agencies and other local partners. This new initiative, called “Hull and Haltemprice Living With Water”, was launched in September with a charrette facilitated by Stantec experts from the US and Canada.
“The partners want Hull to be resilient as a city, which means looking at resilience in people, as well as property resilience and the economic resilience of the city,“ explains Stantec project lead Jane Campbell.
“There is so much interaction, which is why Nevil thought a charrette was the best thing to do – to get everyone into a room and work out the best way to go forward.”
The two day event included the four partners and representatives of charities – for example organisations that work with communities in Hull to plant trees and grow vegetables – as well as local businesses, developers, consultants and academics.
The aim of the event was to develop a vision for the “Living With Water” initiative and to set out clear objectives for the first year. The agreed vision focuses on three areas: place, resilience and sustainability. “Place” is about working with communities to make Hull & Haltemprice a “great maritime city to live in, work and visit” and ensuring investment in integrated water systems is designed to “create value and enhance health and wellbeing”.
Under the heading of resilience, the partners agreed to drive a year on year reduction in flood risk and build awareness and resilience in communities. The aim is to better protect homes and businesses from the damage of flooding, so that investors no longer see it as a barrier to investment. And sustainability is about enabling environmentally sensitive growth that enhances local communities, and delivers multi-benefit flood risk management solutions.
Since the charrette, the partners have also appointed a general manager to identify projects that can be taken forward immediately and to deliver on the strategic objectives. “The general manager is working on a plan for the next 12 months, based on the output from the charrette, understanding what is already going on, starting to plot out what are the things that will give the most benefit over the year, and engaging with more people,” explains Muncaster.