Tuesday, 12 Oct 2021  |  Reading time:  13 mins  | Read online

Flood resilience

Each week we focus on a different global topic, highlighting innovative content and insights from LGIU and our members around the world.  

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This week we celebrate the UN’s Urban October, and with the emphasis on sustainability and climate resilience, this edition of Global Local Recap focuses on flooding. Severe flooding has hit communities around the globe this year, disrupting lives and livelihoods and causing lasting damage to infrastructure and property.

Why is flooding getting worse? The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns that global heating is intensifying the water cycle, bringing about more periods of intense rainfall and flooding in some areas, including cities, and longer droughts in other areas. Meanwhile, rapid urbanisation or ‘concretisation’ has reduced natural drainage capacity and exacerbated the issue for towns and cities.

Why local government? From flood infrastructure, preparation and response, mitigation, education and preparation activities to emergency response, communications and recovery – local government’s involvement is crucial.

Who’s adapting well? Inspiration this week came from New York’s designed-to-flood park, Ontario's provincial flooding policy, and permeable paving in Slough, England.

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This week's featured content

How can nature-based infrastructure provide solutions to flooding? A global look at adoption

By Kat McManus, LGIU

In the coming decades, the impact of coastal, fluvial (river) and pluvial (rainfall) flooding will significantly increase, making effective flood risk management crucial. While we used to reach for the concrete, engineers and scientists have become savvier in recent years, developing methods to build infrastructure in ways that involve or mimic natural landscape features: natural or nature-based systems or infrastructure (NNBI).

Nature-based measures are receiving increasing attention not only for their ability to carry out the same function in providing specific services, e.g. coastal protection or improving drainage in cities, but also for their co-benefits compared to traditional ‘grey’ built infrastructure.

Coastal nature-based infrastructure co-benefits can include:

  • Creating commercially and recreationally valuable fish habitats
  • Improved biodiversity maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity
  • Improved aesthetics and access to “nature” that can increase tourism and recreation
  • Improved water quality

Nature-based solutions can either be entirely ‘green’, using only ecosystem elements, or ‘hybrid’ – a combination of nature-based and traditional engineering aspects. In urban contexts, nature-based solutions for flooding are likely to focus on multifunctionality between drainage management, habitat provision, and population health and recreation.

So how does NNBI work, and how have local authorities harnessed the benefits?

LGIU Global Local Highlights


Bundle: Flood resilience and recovery

Communities in countries from Germany to China to the USA have suffered major flooding this year, putting growing pressure on local authorities worldwide to make their areas more flood resilient. This bundle highlights innovative local government policy to prevent and manage flooding from around the globe. 
Read our content here.

Floodable parks as a tool for local flood resilience

As the likelihood of both coastal and rainwater flooding increases with climate change and rapid urbanisation, floodable parks and other innovative sustainable urban drainage solutions provide one answer for local resilience. 
Read our content here.

Valencia: flood adaptation and active populations

Like many European cities, a river was once at the heart of Valencia. But a history of flooding culminating in a devastating inundation in 1957 called for serious action. LGIU's Ingrid Koehler discovered how Valencia, Spain, turned flooding disaster into cultural, sporting and transport opportunity. 
Read our content here.

Innovation & Inspiration

Curated case studies and news from around the globe

England: Permeable roads to absorb water in ‘sponge city’ project

Porous paving, large underground storage tanks and mini reservoirs will be installed to manage flooding better in low-lying areas through a Slough Borough Council project. Stormwater collected in the tanks will be released gradually to stop surrounding soil becoming oversaturated. Green rooftops and new vegetation areas will also be fitted to absorb more rainwater. The ‘sponge city’ project is inspired by a similar initiative in 16 cities in China, including Wuhan.
The Telegraph / Max Stephens

Related: ‘Sponge city’ wells and restored forests seek to protect El Salvador capital from landslides Inter Press Service / Edgardo Ayala

India: Nature-based infrastructure to solve flooding and meet water demand

City of 1000 Tanks, a non-profit, is working with local government and other partners to develop a Water Balance Model across the city of Chennai. The pilot programme aims to collect rainwater, treat wastewater, reduce runoff pollution, and recharge the city’s underground aquifers using a range of nature-based infrastructure. Water retention and supply capabilities will be increased by 200-250 million litres per day in the first two phases, helping to meet massive urban demand.
Citizen Matters

Related: Toronto eco-roof incentives and requirements create over 450,000 square metres of green space to manage stormwaterC40

The Netherlands: Tiled gardens replaced with greenery to mitigate climate impacts

More than 1.5 million tiles were removed and replaced with trees and plants during a six-month competition between municipalities in the Netherlands this year. Over 80 municipalities took part in the challenge, which encouraged the removal of tiles from public spaces and private gardens to improve urban biodiversity and mitigate flooding and extreme heat risks. The competition also sought to increase public awareness and participation in climate action. The Municipality of the Hague replaced the most: more than 200,000 tiles.
TheMayor.EU / Aseniya Dimitrova
Bloomberg CityLab / Diederik Baazil
Related: Recycled tyres used to create permeable pavement car park in South Australia City of Mitcham

South America: Hackathons and sensors engaged to improve flood response

Latin American cities are employing innovative tech practices and engaging with their communities to find place-based responses to climate threats. The Municipality of Rio de Janeiro ran a hackathon involving university students, start-up leads and computer engineers to find solutions for managing coastal climate risks, including using city bus GPS systems for real-time flood monitoring. The municipality has also mapped floodplains and conducted emergency flood evacuation drills in favelas. Real-time rainfall sensors are being developed in Buenos Aires, while the Municipality of Quito has established a diverse climate change panel including women, young people and Indigenous groups.
Reuters / Anastasia Moloney
Related: Public interactive story map visualises sea level and storm threats to Durban, South Africa C40 Cities

Policy & Resources

Research, analysis and examples of policy in practice from leading institutes and places like yours.

Tools: RainReady is a self-assessment tool to help residents understand and mitigate flood risk in their homes and communities. Designed for Chicago, IL, USA this approach could be developed for other localities. Flood CitiSense was a project that looked at early detection and citizen engagement (which LGIU supported) - residents in Birmingham, England co-developed reporting apps. Blue Green Solutions has a guide and tools developed out of Imperial College London for integrated urban planning including flood prevention and resilience.

Policies: Floods, risks and floodplains often spill beyond municipal boundaries. Ontario’s provincial flooding policy addresses the role of cities. That implementation and the role of place is highlighted in this 2020 Association of Municipalities Ontario discussion paper: Come Hell or High Water: Flooding, Climate Change and Municipal Responses. In the UK, local government often has official structures for scrutiny of the executive that can undertake thematic reviews. Lancashire County Council’s Scrutiny and Overview Review looks at strengthening flood risk management.London’s case study bank of sustainable urban drainage outlines key projects, lessons learned and the policy background. Seven local authorities in England have developed a flood resilience toolkit including education projects. Also see the national report on flooding infrastructure and standards of protection.

Research: The World Bank’s report on nature based solutions to urban flooding in China has some recommendations relevant within the Chinese context, but it also contains an outline of the urban threat, descriptions of approaches and techniques relevant anywhere and global case studies of implementation. Bricks & Water: Building resilience for England's homes from Policy Connect calls for standards for new build homes to make them resilient to flooding and drain sustainably.

Learn: The UN Habitat’s full list of seminars this month on urban innovation, including climate change adaptation.

Interested in other LGIU Global content?

Global Local podcast: All resettlement is local

LGIU launches the brand new Global Local podcast with a look at how local governments can learn from each other on the issues of refugee resettlement. 
Listen to the podcast here.

September Think Tank Review

Our think tank reviews cover the latest research and thought leadership from research institutions in the UK, Ireland and Australia.
Read this month's Think Tank Review here.

Thanks for reading!

Next week, we're focusing on city deals, exploring the impacts of funding and decision-making power transfers between local and central government. In two weeks' time, we'll consider what a just transition to net zero means for local authorities in the third edition of our monthly COP26 newsletter.

If you would like to share your story, you can fill in this simple form or drop me a line at ingrid.koehler@lgiu.org. Please forward this free newsletter to a colleague or share it on social media to help us reach even more people who value local government globally. We tweet from @GlobalLocalLGIU.

Want more content? Visit our website to access our Global Local briefings, blogs, podcast and more.

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