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Global Water Award shows water-sensitive urban design

Tony Wong, chief executive of the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities, Australia, is the winner of the 2018 IWA Global Water Award. The award is to be presented on Sept. 16 at the IWA Water Congress & Exhibition in Tokyo.

The Japan Times had an opportunity to interview Wong via email in cooperation with the IWA, asking him his thoughts on receiving the award, future aspirations and other topics.

Question: Could you give us your comments on receiving the 2018 IWA Global Water Award?

Wong: I am honored to receive this award and feel very privileged to be in the good company of the caliber of previous awardees.

The award acknowledges my lifetime of work in water sensitive urban design — an approach to urban water management that is based on biomimicry and urban design that involves multidisciplinary collaboration.

It recognizes significant collaboration over the past 30 years on an integrated cross-disciplinary approach: from the social to the technical, from engineering innovations to nature-based solutions and in using urban design as an integrative platform.

Genuine collaboration holds the key and I hope the Global Water Award will give this approach greater impetus for widespread global adoption.

Question: Could you briefly explain your field of study and work? What are some of the characteristics of your work?

Wong: My early work on water sensitive urban design (WSUD) adopted a biomimicry approach to integrating nature-based solutions (solutions that mimic natural biophysical processes) into urban form through landscape and building architecture.

I combined the science of water with engineering hydrology and hydraulics, biomimicry and landscape architecture to create a platform for exerting a positive, transformative influence on the nature of cities, and the health and well-being of their citizens.

My WSUD approach is now globally diffused, and my subsequent reimagining of WSUD has helped develop a new program of work — the water sensitive cities approach — that concurrently addresses the social, environmental and economic challenges of traditional urban water management.

This work advanced new understanding of the relationship between the societal and biophysical dimensions of water security, from drought, floods and environmental pollution and city waterscapes.

The aim is to deliver sustainable urban water outcomes that are underpinned by creative design and technical and scientific rigor.

My work and influence have taken tangible shape in the transformations of multiple global cities.

Singapore, for example, applied the water sensitive cities approach to create a more self-reliant water supply, including by harnessing stormwater as a valuable resource using nature-based solutions in the city as “kidneys” to cleanse stormwater. Similarly, the city of Kunshan has achieved a level of sustainability, resilience and livability through the adoption of WSUD that is unprecedented in China.

Question: What made you choose the field of water?

Wong: I have always found water profoundly intriguing and calming. Whether in tranquil conditions or highly turbulent conditions, I have been fascinated by its properties, its dynamic movements and sound; its fundamental utility as a source of life and its power to cleanse; its many forms in vapor, liquid and solid states; and the cultural and emotional connections it invokes.

However, it was at university, inspired by my mentor the late professor Eric Laurenson, that I took the engineering science of water seriously as a career.

Since then, I have used my new knowledge about the physics of water to innovate in ways that combined and connected the many facets of water into urban design, engineering, art and architecture.

Question: What would you like to achieve further in the future?

Wong: My aspiration is for my colleagues and I to continue helping developing cities attain the urban design, urban water systems and associated institutions and governance structures needed to “leapfrog” traditional approaches, to create more sustainable, resilient and livable urban communities.

I am particularly passionate about extending the work to change the lives of the millions of people who live in urban slums.

Question: Do you have any other comments?

Wong: Collaboration is the key to solving many of the global challenges we face; not just those related to water. I am very honored to have worked with my colleagues in helping define the organizing framework and solution space to address some of today’s most urgent global water challenges. Receiving this award was made possible only because of my collaborations with colleagues, motivated by a common sense of purpose and mission.


Download the PDF of this IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition