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Professor Ian Rutherfurd

The University of Melbourne

Ian is a fluvial geomorphologist who also has 25 years working with governments and communities in stream and catchment management, across Australia, Asia and North America. His research spans basic and applied river processes, and river management, and he has completed over 100 publications, 60 consulting projects, and $7m in funded research projects. Ian also has rich experience in education and professional training of all types.

After spending twenty years at the University of Melbourne (of which several years were spent seconded to the Victorian State government working in river policy). Ian is now a Professorial Fellow, and continues his research and supervisions. He also acts on numerous government panels and committees, and works part-time for Alluvium Consulting. He brings deep experience in the application of research to all aspects of river and water management, as well as excellent connections across the water sector.

Facing our urban creeks: the burgeoning enthusiasm for unlocking the many benefits of urban waterways

9 Nov | 9am - 10am
Keynote Speaker

Older houses in Melbourne’s western suburbs often had their back fences facing the waterways. Waterways were a place of danger: floods, pollution, and murderers waiting for you in the shadows. Today these waterways are emerging from the shadows, and new houses enthusiastically face the creeks. The waterways are increasingly a ‘liveability’ asset – although their menace is not entirely gone. Some of the most famous waterway restoration projects in the world are in urban waterways: in Seoul, Los Angeles, San Antonio – even the lower Seine and Thames. These are complex, expensive projects driven by civic pride and aspirations. There are, of course, many more less celebrated urban stream projects, including many in NZ and Australia. Many of us have spent many years focussed on rural streams and are only now turning to face the challenges and opportunities of urban waterways. In this talk I make the following observations.

1. There is a particular geography of urban streams that allows us to classify the types of streams and types of projects.

2. Although ‘daylighting’ of piped creeks gets a lot of press, so far they are a small subset of urban waterway projects.

3. There are a series of factors that have led to this surge of interest in urban waterways, including: demands for liveability, property values, the ageing of existing infrastructure in channelised creeks, and even Covid, which forced whole communities to engage every day with creek-corridors.

4. Whilst most of these projects are, in part, motivated by ecological aspirations, these aspirations are very difficult to realise, especially if the impact of stormwater is not managed.

5. Waterways have to be connected with the broader goals around urban greening, coolling, liveability, access, and even equity and social justice.

6. Most of the attention is on waterways in major cities but equally important are the waterways flowing through every rural town and small city.

7. The unequivocal conclusion from this review is that it is ludicrously expensive and complex to realise the many values of urban waterways once they have been degraded. As cities and towns expand into greenfield areas they need to (a) preserve wide corridors, (b) reduce stormwater runoff, and (c) allow waterways to connect communities just as they connect catchments.

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