Urban infill—the development of new construction on vacant or underutilized lots in the urban core—is a hot topic in the engineering world. It not only results in new business and housing opportunities that bolster the economy but also provides a strong sense of community and diversity. However, such infill sites often pose significant design challenges to civil engineers. Below, we explore stormwater best practices and how making them an integral part of the project design as opposed to an afterthought can provide a number of creative solutions.
Implementing Creative Design Solutions
One of the biggest challenges of designing for these high-density developments is the existence of aging infrastructure. Developing drainage solutions to replace outdated utilities such as combined sewer systems is perhaps one of the most problematic aspects for civil engineers and can be especially difficult when your typical solutions often demand more space than is physically available. Overcoming such complications requires that engineers, contractors and owners be more creative. We have learned that old, outdated practices simply do not work, and there is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Urban constraints along with more stringent regulatory demands mean that every unique project requires an equally unique solution.
One of the best ways to accommodate this challenge is to come up with functional design solutions that are useful in more ways than just stormwater management. For example, What if an area designated to clean stormwater runoff could also serve as an urban, green, landscaped space for residents? Or, What if runoff could be reduced by reusing stormwater as cooling tower makeup water in a building? These types of questions have led to solutions that enhance a livable space and save resources. When these innovative ideas are at their best, they solve practical problems and add value to a facility while helping to achieve larger goals of sustainability.
A few good examples include:
All of these multifunctional concepts carry with them multidisciplinary impacts. Civil engineers can no longer design stormwater management in a vacuum. We are soliciting the expertise of our friendly neighborhood contractors, landscape architects, mechanical engineers, structural engineers and architects to help us come up with the best solutions that are practical and affordable for each project. This level of coordination and design cooperation means stormwater design cannot merely be a postscript. Multidisciplinary coordination efforts need to be engaged early in a project to fully vet the design issues and come up with optimum solutions.
Newer regulations and a growing awareness of sustainability are bringing new ideas to life. As the industry expands its comfort zone of stormwater management practices, previously unthought-of practices are becoming more common, and these lead the way to even newer and smarter innovations. Our urban environments continue to see an enormous impact from human development, and each new project is an opportunity to take another step toward a smarter and more sustainable city.