Lot sizes and backyards are shrinking in Australia at the same time as building density is increasing. So we cannot afford to overlook the potential of existing – but neglected – spaces in our suburbs, like drains.
In denser living environments, we will need new types of green and open space to meet the needs of residents.
One such overlooked space is the urban water drainage system. As part of my research I’m examining the potential of a co-ordinated and integrated network of suburban streams.
The largest water catchment in the Perth metropolitan area is Bayswater Brook (previously called the Bayswater Main Drain). Largely for the purpose of improving water quality, in recent years work has begun to remake drains running through the suburbs into “living streams”.
Aside from the obvious benefits of water purification and stormwater management, these networks of suburban streams can be re-imagined as preferred paths through the neighbourhood.
Using established drainage routes capitalises on their existing connections through a suburb. This network could amplify the connections between parks and other green areas, providing a rich soundscape of birds, frogs and insects, and a diversity of sedges, rushes, melaleucas and other vegetation along the banks.
Look at the big picture
While the conversion of old infrastructure into living streams is not new, it has as-yet-unrealised potential to rehabilitate the large sections of open drainage that run in visible, connected ways through our suburbs. This elevates the idea of a living stream to a multi-layered ecosystem, one that includes multiple drains across the suburb.
The Bayswater Brook permanent drainage system runs through the northeastern suburbs of Perth. These drains can be dangerous and public entry to these areas is prohibited out of necessity.Author's own
The drains run along the rear of mostly low-density housing, hidden from streets.Google Earth
Their condition is typically marked by weeds, minimal vegetation and stagnant water.Zoe Myers, Author provided
The sheer number of these open drains across the metropolitan area offers a compelling opportunity to reconceptualise the system as a holistic and integrated network of ecologically restored streams. This requires co-operation between multiple levels of government.
A project by WaterCorp in Western Australia (which manages drainage infrastructure) has begun inviting local governments to submit proposals for use of the green space around drains. These are currently for small portions of the larger network, such as a pop-up park planned for a basin in Morley.
The benefit of doing this in a co-ordinated way – rather than single stream restoration – lies in the possibilities of making these spaces a genuine alternative to the street.
What are the benefits?Zoe Myers, Author provided
Authors: Zoe Myers, Research Associate, Australian Urban Design Research Centre, University of Western Australia