While many city greening programs focus on reintroducing plants and nature through imaginative and even interactive designs, some cities are taking this opportunity to address other needs.

Stormwater filtration and cleaning are becoming a concern for cities as pollution and water contamination become more frequent and detrimental to public health. Rain gardens offer low-cost, low-maintenance, “at-the-source” stormwater filtration as well as aesthetically rejuvenating and productive areas that contrast with the gray infrastructure of the city. Common designs for rain gardens include in-ground gardens, planter boxes, green roofs, and swales.

While easing city stormwater pressures, placing rain gardens in highly traveled areas encourages daily human interaction.  Many cities have used rain garden designs on curbsides, metro stops as well as medians and side-walks. One popular in-home use for rain gardens is a family food garden! The rain garden design holds water so that vegetables and herbs are able to grow even during droughts.

So, what does it take to make an urban  rain garden program successful and how can we encourage people to build rain gardens in their own backyards? Answer:

  1. Giving it purpose,
  2. Creating open and available channels of resources, and
  3. Making it fun!

            Following the severe drought from 2006-2007, Melbourne, Australia launched a fabulously innovative program to build 10,000 new rain gardens across the city. The program was initiated in 2008 by Melbourne Water, a water supply company of the Victorian State Government. It works by encouraging community councils and citizens to build rain gardens throughout their communities. To help promote this effort among residents in-particular, the Raingardens program offers a “fully-loaded” website that includes everything a new rain garden owner needs to know such as; what rain gardens are, their process, how to pick the appropriate rain garden based on area or need, how to build it, and what plants to use. The website more importantly offers support by sharing tips for care and where to seek help. When done, residents are asked to REGISTER THEIR RAIN GARDEN! By registering, residents are able to compete to win vouchers to a local home-improvement and gardening store.

As of March 2013, Melbourne has reached 8,267 new rain gardens across the city!

Initially, the Melbourne Water Raingarden program came out of local mission to maintain healthy, productive gardens that could withstand the severe droughts Melbourne experiences. However, the lasting success of the program has largely come from the open and available resources the program provides, as well as encouragement for innovation. The best way to ensure lasting success is to make it FUN and let creativity thrive!

Image Credits: Melbourne Water Raingardens

Mariah Gleason, Biophilic Cities Project Researcher 

Mariah is a masters degree candidate in Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia.