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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 (2014-2018)

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.

Working with Indonesia

The Urban Water Cluster research program aims to achieve a detailed understanding of the water systems of Bogor City and Bogor Regency, and to explore their potential to leapfrog to a water-sensitive future through socio-political and biophysical pathways. It did this through a process of benchmarking and diagnosing the water challenges and opportunities of Greater Bogor against other developed cities.

At the neighbourhood level, the research program looked at four sites in Greater Bogor – Pulo Geulis, Griya Katulampa, Cibinong Situ Front City and Sentul City. These sites reflected a range of spatial, social and economic conditions within the broader city and provided a comprehensive assessment of the different ways in which a city can develop and transform over time.

Capacity Building

Parallel with the Urban Water Cluster strategic research program, over 30 post-graduate students from Monash University, Institut Pertanian Bogor and Universitas Indonesia conducted research related to the Urban Water Cluster, under the supervision of cluster academics and some of these students also supported cluster data collection and translation activities.

Of those, seven UI students and four IPB students have completed their master’s degree.  Seven of the post-graduate researchers were Monash PhD students from the Water & Sustainability in Asia initiative who worked with the Cluster under the Graduate Research Interdisciplinary Program (GRIP) to successfully submit their doctoral theses in 2018 and 2019.


In December 2018, the Urban Water Cluster held a research showcase and exhibition – ‘Water Sensitive Bogor’ - where it presented the current water sensitive status of Greater Bogor and pathways for leapfrogging to a more water sensitive and resilient future.

The Urban Water Cluster team from MSDI, Monash Art, Design & Architecture (MADA), Monash Engineering and Arts, along with partners from the Institut Pertanian Bogor and Universitas Indonesia presented key insights gained from two years of research and engagement with government, industry and communities in Bogor through the establishment of the Urban Water Learning Alliance.

The research recommendations presented throughout the day included establishing new governance arrangements, reviewing green infrastructure for new and existing developments, applying modelling tools to support city development decisions, and the role of the Learning Alliance in building capacity and developing a cooperative and collaborative approach to building a water sensitive future.

Bappeda Kota Bogor (the Regional Development Planning Agency for Bogor City) and Bappenas (the Indonesian Ministry of National Development Planning) both gave their commitment to support implementation of the research recommendations.

For more information on the Urban Water Cluster, you can read their research report - Leapfrogging towards a Water Sensitive City - Exploring pathways for Bogor.