A Community of Practice Approach to Planning Water Sensitive Cities in South Africa

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

A Community of Practice Approach to Planning Water Sensitive Cities in South Africa


  • Kirsty Carden Future Water Research Institute, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Jessica Fell Department of Civil Engineering, University of Cape Town, South Africa


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Abstract:  As South African cities urbanise alongside climate change, resource constraints, and socio-economic challenges, water sensitive (urban) design (WSD) is slowly gaining traction as a framework to address water security goals and entrench resilience. This article reflects on the progression of WSD in South Africa and discusses the broadening of its initial association with stormwater and physical infrastructure to include critical governance and institutional arrangements and social engagements at the core of a water sensitive transition. The approach is  being adapted for the socio-economic challenges particular to  South Africa, including basic urban water and sanitation service provision, WSD related skills shortages, a lack of spatial planning support for WSD, and the need for enabling policy. Since 2014, a national WSD Community of Practice (CoP) has been a key driver in entrenching and advancing this approach and ensuring that the necessary stakeholders are involved and sufficiently skilled. The WSD CoP is aimed at promoting an integrative approach to planning water sensitive cities, bridging the gaps between theory and practice and blending the social and physical sciences and silo divisions within local municipalities. Three South African examples are presented to illustrate the role of a CoP approach with social learning aspects that support WSD : (1) the “Pathways to water resilient South African cities” interdisciplinary project which shows the institutional (policy) foundation for the integration of WSD into city water planning and management processes; (2) the Sustainable Drainage Systems  training programme in the province of Gauteng which demonstrates a skills audit and training initiative as part of an intergovernmental skills development programme with academic partners; and (3) a working group that is being established between the Institute for Landscape Architecture in South Africa and the South African Institution of Civil Engineering which illustrates the challenges and efforts of key professions working together to build WSD capacity.

Keywords:  community of practice; South Africa; urban water resilience; water sensitive cities; water sensitive design

Published:   14 October 2021


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/up.v6i4.4575


© Kirsty Carden, Jessica Fell. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.