ResilientCity: Living with the Water Paradox

The winners of this year’s Design Ideas Competition have been recently announced. Among them, the proposal “Living with the Water Paradox” by Nok Ratanavong, Sang Ok Kim, and James Kim was selected as the First-Place winner. Although many of the entries provided thoughtful ideas for increasing urban resilience, Living with the Water Paradox stood out because it provided a critical synthesis of potential planning and design responses to the threats posed by climate change, especially flooding and drought. The proposal’s defining feature is a comprehensive, district-scale system of interventions that link water to waste, food, and energy. The system responds to the higher risk of storm surges by harvesting rainwater and surface runoff.

Recently, there have been significant water rationing and flood events in Australia, and these disturbances are only expected to worsen in frequency and intensity as climate change progresses. Craig Applegath, a Jury moderator, commented that the winning proposal is effective because it uses the issue of water as a starting point to grapple with the larger issues of urban resilience. Another jury member, Peter Howard, said that: “As desertification continues to move into Australia’s wheat belt, this entry’s proposal to give people options for eating directly from urban plots becomes both more pressing and more attractive”.

The proposal calls for urban farming research into drought and flood resistant plants and growing methods through community-owned cooperatives. Waste food is returned to food production as compost, while waste methane is used to generate electricity. In order to reduce carbon dependency and prepare for a post-carbon future, electrical power supply is further augmented by micro-hydro stations as well as by small-scale solar and wind installations that support desalination, food and aquaculture production, and waste processing.  As part of the proposed strategy, rain water is used in conjunction with desalinated water to support local decentralized food production in front yard and rooftop gardens, and for water features that enhance the appearance and function of public spaces.

“This proposal is successful in part because it breaks with the tendency to see core functions at purely the city or regional scale,” said jury member Michael Haggerty. The jury agreed that decentralized and redundant micro facilities are likely to increase the capacity for resilience because they can help to reduce incidences of cascading failures, would not require large investments of capital or an aggregation of new resources or technologies, and carry the added benefit of being easier to maintain. Jury member Douglas Pollard added that, “although this proposal does not invent an entirely new vision, it does knit together enough small moves to make a vision that is coherent and realistic.” (

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Image Credits: Nok Ratanavong, Sang Ok Kim, and James Kim | “Living with the Water Paradox” via

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