Flood management strategies often conflict with environmental dynamics by taking them out of play using ‘defensive’ engineering solutions to resist the effects of severe flooding and erosion. In addition to the loss of ecological health and function, an unintended consequence of a defensive river system is disconnection with people and place. Defence mechanisms including stopbanks, monoculture edges, and manicured floodplains are static solutions to a dynamic problem. They create barriers for connectivity with the river and are a management approach focused on control of the natural environment. In this system the river loses its voice, riverside space becomes sterile and nature is unable to contribute to social health and wellbeing.
A multi-disciplinary team of designers, ecologists, and engineers are working to envision a diversified and more resilient future for the Hutt River/Te Awa Kairangi with the RiverLink project. Using a holistic approach that balances development and ecosystem services, design solutions aim to bring out the river voice through inclusion of ecological function in the landscape, creating a manifold of public spaces along the river without compromising the flood management framework. Site elements foster ecological and social benefits with the inclusion of riparian wetlands to treat urban runoff and improve flood capacity, native species revegetation to enhance biological and landscape diversity, and a range of recreational and passive spaces that improve visual and physical connections between the city edge and the river. In order to complete the full description of resilience by ensuring that solutions respond to community and tangata whenua values, a comprehensive engagement approach is being undertaken. Inclusive visioning for the space may become a model for an integrated approach to improve the health and resilience of communities through the enhancement of ecosystem services and giving a voice to the river