Nature-Based Solutions, Biomimicry, and Flood Management Lessons Learned from the U.S and Europe

Review of the Insight Session on 29 March 2024

Photo: Zelenka, GIZ

On 29  March 2024, the insight session on Nature-Based Solutions, Biomimicry, and Flood Management Lessons Learned from the U.S. and Europe was held, delivered by thematic experts from Jacobs company.

This insight session was organized by Connective Cities and the Resilience Initiative Africa’s Southern Africa component, and presented to the Connective Cities global community, encompassing urban practitioners, national government actors, researchers from academia, non-governmental organizations, and local community members.

The insight session was kicked off with a presentation from Mr. Andrew Potts on Blue-Green Stormwater Infrastructure. Mr. Potts holds 24 years of expertise encompassing green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), stormwater management, water resources, and sustainable site design, and spoke in depth about his experiences in implementing Blue-Green Stormwater Infrastructure in cities across the United Kingdom and the United States.

The goal of Blue-Green Stormwater Infrastructure is to manage stormwater at the source by combining man-made “blue” infrastructure such as pipes and culverts, with nature-based “green” infrastructure such as green roofs and bioswales. The combination of such infrastructures offers a more resilient and sustainable method of managing urban stormwater runoff and peak flow rates, enhancing water quality and biodiversity within urban areas. Mr. Potts referred to several examples from his work in implementing Blue-Green Stormwater Infrastructure:

Sidmouth Amphitheater, UK

  • Sidmouth, a town on England's southwest coast, has endured regular stormwater floods, with overland flow paths flowing to a low point immediately in the town's center, leaving 150 residential and commercial properties at risk.
  • Jacob’s team along with the local government worked jointly to develop flood prevention measures that would not only address Sidmouth’s challenges with draining water from the town center but also create a new public space for the surrounding local communities.
  • The Amphitheater was hence developed a floodwater storage area. Water from the highways and the streets running through the town would drain into the amphitheater. In days without heavy rainfall, the amphitheater acts as a public space, hosting many of the town’s events and festivals. During heavy rainfall days, however, the amphitheater acts as a valuable source of water storage, being able to hold 700 cubic meters of water.

Examples from the US.

  • The development of Rodney Cook, Sr. Park in Atlanta Georgia by creating a multi-functional public space within the neighborhood not only allowed for an effective medium of stormwater drainage but also created a space for residents to enjoy.
  • At the Rams Head Center of the University of North Carolina – Chapel, 1-acre blue-green roof plaza on top of a multistory parking garage along with a 56,000-gallon cistern below the sidewalks, to efficiently drain stormwater during heavy rainfall events.

Mr. Potts also spoke on how to effectively plan and design Blue Green Stormwater infrastructure, talking about various design criteria such as:

  • External factors – Changing precipitation patterns, incorporating flood models into the design, addressing seasonal variation in infiltration rates and groundwater models.
  • Basic factors – The project site of the infrastructure planned, the scale of the project, the level of maintenance required, geotechnical considerations, and cost implications.

Complementing the input from Mr. Potts, Mr. Chris Allen further gave a presentation on Biomimicry, exploring how to quantify nature’s benefits through ecosystem intelligence. Examples such as micro-bioretention and bioactive walls were mentioned. Mr. Allen has over 30 years of consulting and strategic management experience and collaborates with technical teams worldwide to incorporate Regenerative and Nature-Based Solutions into planning and design for diverse clients.

Over 3.8 billion years, nature has devised highly efficient answers to most of the problems we face. Biomimicry is a design and innovation strategy that takes inspiration from nature's inventiveness, leveraging its patterns, methods, and effective approaches to improve and innovate solutions that promote ideal conditions for all living forms to thrive. When applied to built environments, biomimicry produces design solutions that mimic the life-sustaining benefits, also known as ecosystem services, supplied by natural habitats. As a result, these buildings assist the surrounding ecosystems by providing socioeconomic and environmental benefits such as improved air and water quality, better carbon absorption, and increased biodiversity. The overall goal is for buildings to function similarly to neighboring undisturbed ecosystems, providing equivalent benefits to the natural landscapes they surround.

Mr. Allen gave an example of how Ford Motor Company in their Michigan Central Station had implemented biomimicry measures to not only improve local water quality but also led to positive outcomes in carbon cycling and biodiversity. Ford Motor Company carried out the following measures:

  • The implementation of restoration workdays, where employees of the company would embark on restoring the wetlands in the surrounding areas of the Michigan Central Station. Employees contributed to the development of bioretention ponds, restored the local streambanks, planted native species of plants along the wetlands, and developed bioswales to drain stormwater
  • Local forests were also restored, and recreational trails were developed along the local forests to improve the habitats for birds. Additionally, pollinator gardens were developed. To regreen the Central station, the areas previously allocated for employee parking were redeveloped into forest areas, with the planting of native forest trees.
  • A mix of blue and green stormwater infrastructures was also implemented in the central station with the development of subsequent green and blue roofs to intercept and collect precipitation. Eco-machines were also installed to treat stormwater that fell on the blue-green roofs, feeding into either stormwater cisterns or drained into the local wetlands. Footpaths around the campus and the newly developed parking lots were built on pervious surfaces, to allow water to drain into the ground.

After sharing the example of the Ford Motor Company, Mr. Allen then presented two tools that could be used by the participants to utilize and implement biomimicry solutions in their own cities:

The Positive Performance Methodology

  • An assessment and innovation technique to assist business clients in developing and implementing regenerative best practices, thereby enhancing the overall well-being of ecosystems and the communities that rely on them.
  • Using local intact ecosystems as inspiration and a benchmark against which future performance is measured, it guides organizations and design teams in developing place-based, regenerative design approaches that provide an array of benefits for ecosystems, communities, and businesses.

The Ecosystem Intelligence Identification and Inventory Tool

  • The Ecosystem Intelligence Identification and Inventory tool has been developed to identify and quantify the ecosystem services supplied by a site. Data produced by the tool can be used to to visualize cost-benefit potential for optimizing natural landscape and built-environment performance, or be used for various engineering and finance models, as a crucial source of evidence-based planning.

The insight session held, acted as a valuable input for the Learning Process on Flood Risk Management for Risk-informed Urban Development, giving participating cities innovative and unique perspectives on solutions that could be implemented within their urban catchments. Not only did the insight session provide the participants with different perspectives on combatting urban flooding but also to shift the paradigm of urban risk management away from a single hazard focus, more towards a multi-hazard focus and systemic approach towards risk management.

The recording and the soft copies of the presentations delivered by the team at Jacobs can be accessed through the following link -

Connective Cities and the Resilience Initiative Africa would like to thank the speakers from Jacobs for their excellent and engaging inputs. Should you be interested in similar events, we would welcome you to our upcoming insight sessions:

  • Showcasing the Amman Urban Observatory – 24/04/2024
  • Application of the Sponge City Concept in the Sub-Saharan Africa context – 16/05/2024
  • Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for Risk-Informed Urban Development and Climate Action in the SADC region – 20/06/2024

Connective Cities