Urban Watershed Framework Plan: A Reconciliation Landscape for Conway, Arkansas
Architect: University of Arkansas Community Design Center
Owner: City of Conway, Arkansas
Location: Conway, Arkansas
In rapidly growing Conway, Arkansas, the Urban Watershed Framework Plan recalibrates urban infrastructure according to ideals espoused in the concepts of ecosystem services. Developed over three years and aided by a citizen-led alliance, the plan is a critical piece of a multifaceted initiative funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission to mitigate severe water management issues plaguing Conway’s surrounding watersheds.
The plan envisions highly livable green spaces developed through low-tech but high-concept enhancements to investments already servicing Conway’s growth. Employing green infrastructure to deliver ecosystem services, the plan includes a portfolio of retrofits that complement conventional infrastructure that can be transferred to any urban watershed. Rhizomatic in its approach, the plan includes a number of tools— a sponge city gradient, a spectrum of water treatment technologies, and six adaptive micro-infrastructure types — and recognizes that the most significant challenge in planning is designing within ecosystems dominated by humans.
"A thoughtful, sophisticated and holistic response to a recurring problem across the country." ~ Jury statement
The formation of the multicounty Lake Conway-Point Remove Watershed Alliance (LCPRWA) emerged from a series of public education workshops led by the design team. Critical for securing additional funding from the EPA, watershed alliances deliver the added benefit of being one of the most cost-efficient decision-making matrixes. The process put the power in the most effective hands and equipped the alliance with tools and templates for addressing watershed issues in communities beyond Conway.
As ecological problems are often social problems, property owners and low-income residents downstream often suffer the most economic damage. To combat this, the plan bolsters social equity by providing a number of suggested policy revisions and holistic solutions that benefit all interests. In one low-income neighborhood regular flooding has stymied investment in its town square, and the plan’s call for a “re-wilding” there resulted in a $50,000 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to develop an urban park that delivers ecological benefits.
While not yet a codified part of the urban design toolkit, this project demonstrates that a community-scaled urban watershed plan can be a potent agent for reinventing post-industrial cities.
"This was head to tail very rewarding." ~ Jury statement