Dawn Purves

Research Group: Research Cities, Architecture, Landscape, Environment
Award studied: PhD

Project title

The role of Ecological Citizenship (EC) in identifying the constraints to and acceptance of ecological solutions to environmental problems, in particular Low Impact Sustainable Urban Drainage Measures


Climate change poses real and significant challenges to humanity in the 21st century. Problems related to climate change have become worse as our towns and cities have grown (Bray et al. 2012). Around the world there are examples of "urban sprawl", a form of development that "consumes green spaces, promotes auto-dependency and widens urban fringes, which puts pressure on environmentally sensitive areas" USEPA (2005). Urban sprawl increases the percentage of sealed surfaces, including roofs, pavements and roads (USEPA, 2009; Bray et al. 2012; Goodwin et al. 2008), forming impervious surfaces that prevent water from percolating into the soil. In Canada and the USA, LID is an approach to land development (or re-development) that works with nature to manage storm water as close to its source as possible (USEPA). In other parts of the world different terminology is used, for instance it is referred to as Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDS) in the UK and Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) in Australia. For this research, LID as a term will be defined and used as overarching terminology to encompass LID, SUDS and WSUD.

Rain gardens under the wider umbrella of climate change neighbourhoods, are an example of LID. In simplified form, they consist of shallow depressions containing absorbent and free-draining soil, which are planted with vegetation able to withstand occasional temporary flooding, which together slows water flows into the storm water systems, replicating pre-development site hydrological function. Although extensive research has already been carried out in Canada and the USA on LID (Bray et al. 2012; Goodwin et al. 2008; USEPA, 1999; USEPA, 2000; USEPA, 2007) and in Europe, Australia and the UK on SUDS and WSUD; there has not been significant investigation on the effectiveness of rain gardens when combined with other LID measures – forming climate change neighbourhoods, and even less documentation on the reasons why they have not been universally adopted in the UK and Europe.

Rain gardens within the wider scope of climate change neighbourhoods offer the opportunity for citizens to work with nature and participate in the way water is managed in our towns and cities. By considering wider aspects of sustainability, sustainable development and environmental policies, this research seeks to uncover whether changes in environmental policies, away from incentivisation and taxation to more morally-based policies, coupled with improved engagement methodologies, support for social learning by building upon existing knowledge frameworks and increased citizen participation, would shift our perceptions towards LID as an alternative sustainable approach to climate change adaption, mitigation and increase community resilience. This research will examine current methods of climate change adaption measures, focusing on rain garden LID delivery within the wider framework of climate change neighbourhoods and, via a thorough understanding of present environmental policies, assess whether a top-down legislative approach is more or less effective than bottom-up strategies, which would give citizens greater opportunities for participating and taking responsibility of their own environment.

Finally, it will examine ways of using a moral judgement system to design more engaging messages on climate change and LID (Markowitz and Shariff, 2012), seeking innovative ways of engaging with people when applying knowledge transfer that avoids provoking defensive reactions. Instead, the issues perceived around climate change which currently restrict the implementation of LID measures will be reframed in ways that work off the strengths of the moral judgement system, and through application of subtle shifts in language as promoted by (Markowitz and Shariff, 2012), – improve the moral significance, so enable greater acceptance and ultimately implementation.

Funding received

Kingston University, Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture PhD Research Studentship

Dawn Purves