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How can cities grow and thrive in an era of climate change? This is a challenge faced by both Australia and Indonesia.

Cities and their communities are complex and dynamic systems that constantly evolve under the burden of population, climatic and societal change. Water is central to the health of cities: we need clean water; we need to prevent disease from wastewater; and we need to deal with the challenges of storms and flooding.

The Australia-Indonesia Centre’s Urban Water Cluster imagines cities in which the water cycle is managed to protect and enhance the health of waterways, mitigate flood risk and create public spaces that harvest, clean and recycle water. Integrated water management will support biodiversity, public  green  space, healthy waterways, connected communities and cultural significance. Ultimately, these cities will use water sensitive planning and design to create connected, vibrant and liveable communities.

The Challenges

For Australia

Australia has long been an urban nation. In 1960, 80% of the population was urbanised. Today 65 percent of the population lives in just five cities, and total urbanisation has reached 89 per cent. The core urban infrastructure is mature – Melbourne’s major sewerage farm was established in the 19th Century, and the dams that supply clean water were constructed throughout the 20th Century.

However, Australia’s cities face new challenges. The past 20 years has seen major cities hit by drought interspersed with significant flood events and heat waves. Governments have invested in energy-intense solutions such as desalination plants. Is there a better way?

For Indonesia

In 1960, just 15 per cent of Indonesia’s population was living in cities. Today it has risen to 54 percent. Over the same period the total population has tripled to 258 million.

Rapidly growing cities in Indonesia are under economic and environmental pressure to develop social services, effective water, transport, and energy systems. They need to quickly deliver more basic urban water services as more than 70 per cent of the country’s population relies on water obtained from potentially contaminated sources.

The opportunity

Leapfrogging towards water-sensitive cities

With ever-increasing population shifts towards urban environments, it is crucial to make cities sustainable.

Imagine a city in which…

  • suburbs and districts are water supply catchments: capturing rain and run-off, recycling storm water and grey water for urban farming and gardens
  • clean rivers and groundwater contribute to cool, green and beautiful urban landscapes
  • resilient, water-conscious citizens form communities that accept and support new water solutions
  • the city itself is more resilient, more energy efficient, more able to cope with weather extremes and climate change.

Australian cities are adopting water-sensitive approaches. Melbourne Water, for example, has created over 10,000 rain gardens. But progress is slow, in part because of the existing massive traditional water infrastructure.

Indonesian cities have an opportunity to leapfrog certain stages in building core urban water infrastructure. For example, rather than investing only in a centralised sewerage system, such as those of Melbourne  and Sydney, Indonesian cities can implement treatment and  recycling systems that also integrate decentralised infrastructures at the neighbourhood scale, increasing their efficiency and cost-effectiveness and accelerating the path to water-sensitive cities.

In this way, developing Indonesian cities would avoid repeating the mistakes that westernised cities made, through being technologically and institutionally locked into less resilient and less sustainable water management solutions.

Urban Water Cluster

The aim of the Urban Water Cluster is to support the leapfrogging of Indonesian and Australian cities towards more sustainable, resilient and liveable urban communities through mutual learning and rapid uptake of context-specific water practices. Resilience and resilient communities lie at the heart of the cluster.

By shifting focus away from an ultimate end goal of sustainability to an ongoing process of enhancing resilience, managers, planners, council members and residents can examine the community in its entirety, the interrelations between the various elements within a community, and how these elements collectively enhance community resilience, and ultimately move a community towards sustainability.

The Monash Sustainable Development Institute and the Australian Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities have developed a Water Sensitive Cities Index designed to guide governments, organisations, and communities to transition their cities into liveable, resilient, sustainable, and productive places through water-related actions.

The Cluster’s core activities will extend and adapt this Index for application to Indonesian cities, equipping local and state governments, public agencies, water utilities and donor banks, with the capacity to monitor and evaluate the performance of current water management practices and identify

Working with two Indonesian cities

The Cluster will focus on Greater Jakarta, a metropolitan area which has a range of significant water-related issues that need to be managed, as well as potential to influence significant changes across Indonesian cities due to its strong connections with government. Because of its vast area, the project will focus on two cities within Greater Jakarta - Bogor and Depok - that will be essential in developing sustainable water management. Key waterways and rivers of Jakarta, as the central government region, but also West Java, flow through these two cities, presenting a valuable opportunity to explore the interconnections between upstream and downstream cities as they strive to  leapfrog towards water sensitive cities.