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Co-designing creek naturalisation to create valued places for a growing population

Community group photo

with Melbourne Water

Working with stakeholders and the community every step of the way, Melbourne Water is transforming creeks across Melbourne into living breathing urban waterways as part of the Reimagining Your Creek Program. Insights provided by the community have been instrumental in the design of desirable, open spaces the community can enjoy with significant improvements in liveability and environmental outcomes.

At Melbourne Water, we’re driven by a powerful strategic vision that informs everything we do: Enhancing Life and Liveability. The provision of safe drinking water, sewerage, flood and drainage services are fundamental components of our contribution to Melbourne’s treasured liveability however more recently, we have expanded our focus beyond these fundamental areas to focus on enhancing five key liveability attributes:

  • Developing and connecting active transport links through shared user paths to improve connectivity as well as access to our land and waterways
  • Expanding passive and active recreation opportunities on our land and waterways
  • Increasing urban cooling of buildings and public places through the provision of shade and water features
  • Facilitating a sense of community and cultural connection
  • Building a sense of place by providing improved access to our land and waterways.

In previous decades, engineered concrete channels and pipes replaced natural rivers and creeks with the sole benefit of providing efficient drainage and stormwater management. Now, we understand that multiple benefits can be realised by restoring these concrete channels back into natural riverine and creek environments in a re-imagination of what is possible in urban waterway management. This is especially important in suburbs with limited natural or open space available for exercise, recreation and relaxation.

Enter our Reimagining Your Creek program

Reimagining your Creek is a community-led, multi-partner, multi-site program that transforms heavily engineered concrete channels and pipes into natural places the community can enjoy, with significant improvements in liveability and environmental outcomes.

Previously we would have provided project partners and the community with pre-prepared design options for how a site could be transformed, with many of the decisions already made. Instead the Reimagining Your Creek program adopted a collaborative public participation process where we worked with stakeholders and the community every step of the way to design and restore sections of existing waterways back to their natural form. This approach came out of our Next Gen organisation wide change program which transforms the way we engage with the community. Next Gen puts our community at the heart of our decision-making and the recognition that no one understands the needs and values of our community better than the community itself.

The first of five sites chosen across Melbourne was a 1.4km section of an uninspiring underground stormwater drain and concrete channel along Arnolds Creek in Melton West, one of Melbourne’s fastest growing and densely populated suburbs.

A collaborative and blended approach to engagement

Community values were identified through a range of online and face to face engagement including an interactive online engagement site, community workshops, fun and engaging pop-up events and a community advisory group. We wanted to understand what was important to community, what existing aspects of the sites they valued and any changes they might like to make. By working together with the public in each phase of the decision-making process, they helped to co-design the options for reimagining the creek and identified their preferred solution.

Online engagement for all phases of the project was available to the wider community via our ‘YourSay’ online engagement site. This informative, interactive site had online engagement tools for capturing community feedback in an accessible and visual way across the different phases of the project.

To further support our online approach and ensure that a cross-section of community views were captured members of a Community Advisory Group were recruited. Over three facilitated co-design workshops at each key design stage, the 12 local residents were asked to:

  • contribute local knowledge and information about the existing open space,
  • provide ideas and possibilities for re-designing and naturalising the creek and offer feedback on ideas and the preferred options developed
  • share information with the broader community so that feedback can be captured and incorporated into the detailed design

They used our local knowledge to create the designs. Then they checked that they had included what was important…The project team asked us about the area…they hadn’t already decided what we wanted!” Michael Olinowski, local resident.

Additional face to face engagement activities were held in collaboration with local stakeholders at events and locations where residents gathered and went about their everyday lives including Clean Up Australia Day, Harmony Day, community group meetings, shopping centres and schools.

The feedback we received showed the communities preference for shared paths to connect people to places, shade/trees and seating so people can sit and enjoy the open space and play areas for children. They also wanted to see further signage to assist with wayfinding and provide information about the area and ways to mitigate the effects of flooding.

Using this data gathered from community input, we were able to identify preferences and priorities and to explain how design decisions would be made. We were also able to broaden the community’s understanding of water management and the importance of green open spaces for recreation, health and wellbeing.

“It needs to be an area that invites people and they are able to use all their senses to enjoy the creek and open space.” Local resident.

Three images, people planning, community, and a sausage sizzle

Bringing community ideas to life

This site has undergone a total rejuvenation through the Reimagining Your Creek project. The concrete drain is now a living breathing urban waterway. Shared paths and recreation facilities encourage exercise and play in a natural setting and extensive revegetation provides much needed shade for the community on hot days. The reimagination and restoration of Arnold’s Creek has significantly improved liveability in the immediate neighbourhood of Melton West, where the amount of open space per person is one-third that of surrounding localities.

By implementing this innovative, integrated engagement approach, Melbourne Water created strong partnerships and built public trust. The feedback we received from community was not only key to developing each design but also ensured we create places that will be loved and used by their communities. We gained a better understanding of what was important to the local community by listening to their ideas and feedback which in turn saw a surge in community support, strengthened existing partnerships and paved the way forward for how we work with community to naturalise other waterways.

For more information visit the Melbourne Water website: Reimagining Your Creek program | Melbourne Water

Arnolds Creek naturalisation