In profile: Behnaz Avazpour, PhD student

Water scarcity has been identified as one of the most likely causes of future global conflict and economic instability on many scales. For those living in semi-arid cities—those cities that have very low rainfall, high evaporation and wide daily and seasonal temperature swings—the potential impacts of water scarcity are severe.

With growing urbanisation in many semi-arid cities, increased pressure is being placed on Governments to provide a secure water supply that can also withstand the impacts of climate change.

Behnaz Avazpour is hoping to assist planners and Governments by developing a framework for innovative design approaches that enhance water sensitivity in the semi-arid urban landscapes of drought-prone cities.  Her PhD, titled ‘Transformation from Tradition’, draws on traditional design solutions, including those in place in her home country of Iran, to advance research into Water-Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) strategies that can be applied in semi-arid regions.Behnaz Avazpour presenting water sensitive cities and their effect to adapt climate change effects, Climate Change Week, UNSW, October 2018. Credit: Jonathan Doig

WSUD integrates stormwater, groundwater and wastewater management and water supply into urban design to support healthy ecosystems and ensure aesthetic appeal. Behnaz says that it was climate change that prompted her to learn more about water sensitive cities, and that she has discovered a clear need for more effective solutions to managing urban water, particularly in semi-arid cities.

“There are many policies, instructions and objectives to make cities ‘water-sensitive’, however, the majority of them focus on flooding rather than drought in the context of arid cities,” says Behnaz.

“The severity of future water scarcity impacts in semi‐arid cities means these regions should be the highest priority in the necessary search for appropriate, water-sensitive solutions,” says Behnaz.

Behnaz says that there are few frameworks that evaluate water sensitive urban design in terms of design strategies, and even fewer that look at the actual implementation of design strategies and their effectiveness. She has identified some key challenges to address including the temporary effects of infrastructure, gaps between theory and practice, and deficiencies in post-implementation.

Within Australia specifically, Behnaz says there are important implications from this research for the cities of Adelaide and Perth. She is using Adelaide as case study for fieldwork and testing due to its arid and semi-arid urban climate and its traditional water management methods which can be transformed into innovative WSUD approaches.

It waswhile completing her Master in Landscape Architecture at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran that Behnaz became interested in environmental issues, especially river and water management in urban areas.

“This passion made me choose a dissertation topic related to urban areas, specifically looking at landmarks in the urban landscape, with a focus on the role of rivers as natural landmarks. Research on this subject alongside my previous experiences in the other parts of landscape and urban planning has given me a good insight about this dynamic subject.”

Behnaz says that Australia is widely recognised for its water sensitive cities, and with UNSW’s stellar reputation for climate change research and water issues, it was the perfect choice for her PhD.

“This university and its incredible researchers provides me with the energy and motivation required to complete my research to the best of my ability

Behnaz Avazpour, PhD Student

“This university and its incredible researchers provides me with the energy and motivation required to complete my research to the best of my ability,” says Behnaz.

“From the first day of my PhD journey, I have tried to expand my knowledge in the field I am working in through meeting more people. Hence, in addition to my research, I am collaborating with the Urban Water Resilience Lab—a cross faculty lab that consists of UNSW lecturers and PhD students—on developing different papers and reports related to water. These include a report for water and human rights in Southeast Asia, and a paper about developing a framework for evaluating the success of sponge city projects over time.”

After she completes her PhD, Behnaz would like to remain involved in the water sector and explore research opportunities on other aspects of water management in urban landscapes.

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