Future proofing urban neighbourhoods – Evaluating the role of community co-design in delivering multiple environmental and social benefits from flood resilience schemes


Supervisor: Alexandra Collins

Non-accademic partner: Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Studentship start date: October 2022

Application deadline: 28th February 2022

Application details: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/environmental-policy/phd/how-to-apply/

Extreme weather patterns caused by long-term global climate change coupled with land use change has increased the frequency, distribution and intensity of urban flooding. Not only does this threaten human life (Richard, 2016), it also has knock-on effects for both economic and social development, with the cost of flood damage and associated losses estimated at over $104 billion per year globally (Kundzewicz et al., 2014). Flooding is ranked as the UK’s most serious natural hazard, with more than one in six properties (around five million properties in total) and a high percentage of the nation’s key infrastructure at risk (Environment Agency, 2015). During 2015-16, flood events were estimated to have cost the British economy £1.6 billion (Environment Agency, 2018). Additionally, flooding can cause considerable problems for communities (Lo and Chan, 2017) and disruption to people’s lives that can have a significant impact upon their physical and mental health and well-being (Tapsell and Tunstall, 2008). The role of Blue Green Infrastructure (BGI), the strategically planned network of natural or semi natural areas within urban areas and Nature Based Solutions (NBS), approaches to challenges that involve working with nature, are increasingly recognised for their role in allowing cities to adapt to climate change and mitigate the impacts of flooding is increasingly recognised (European Commission, 2013; Scott et al., 2017; Everett et al., 2018). Furthermore, BGI and NBS can bring additional benefits such as promoting healthier lifestyles that lead to increased well-being, supporting the green economy, improving biodiversity and ecological resilience, improving water quality and climate change mitigation (UK Green Building 119 Council, 2015; Le Li et al., 2020). As a result, England’s recently published Flood Management strategy highlights the need for a broader range of actions than the grey infrastructure traditionally used, and mandates incorporation of NBS for climate resilient places (UK Government, 2020). There is also a growing consensus that increased community involvement improves the results of Flood Risk Management (FRM) projects, with benefits including; integration of local knowledge into solutions (Lane et al., 2011); decreased local resistance (Thaler and Levin-Keitel, 2016); improved trust (Begg et al., 2015; Mehring et al., 2018); and increased long-term community resilience (Laurien et al., 2020; McEwen et al., 2018). Furthermore, it is likely that community involvement may lead to wider environmental and social benefits such as greater agency, civic engagement and social cohesion. Despite this, progress regarding participation in urban planning remains slow, with a lack of collaboration and co-design opportunities frequently preventing active participation of communities (Wilker et al., 2016). Furthermore, recent work has highlighted that there are challenges of equitably engaging across diverse and highly mobile communities, with differences in motivations, capabilities and capacity (Harrison et al., 2021). Working with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, this PhD project will investigate how community research and co-design can be used to inform BGI and NBS efforts to manage floods risk and create resilient communities. It will take a participatory and action-oriented approach which aims to equitably engage residents and work with them as co-researchers to evaluate the environmental and social benefits of the approach