Welcome to our new home!

Cadline is now ARKANCE. You will now be automatically redirected to our new website arkance.world

Thank you for choosing ARKANCE

Sponge Cities: An Approach to Sustainable Urban Development and Biodiversity Conservation

Urbanization is an irreversible global trend, with more than half of the world's population now residing in cities. However, rapid urban growth often comes at the expense of the environment, leading to increased pollution, habitat destruction, and flooding. In response to these challenges, the concept of "sponge cities" has emerged as a promising approach to sustainable urban development. By mimicking the natural hydrological functions of sponges, these cities aim to absorb, store, and reuse rainwater, thereby reducing the risk of floods, replenishing groundwater supplies, and enhancing biodiversity. In celebration of the International Day for Biological Diversity, this article explores the development of sponge cities and their potential impact on biodiversity conservation.

''The threat posed by climate change to biodiversity is expected to increase, with rainfall increases in both frequency and intensity amongst those threats and impacting urban areas around the globe almost daily. The nature-based solutions promoted by Sponge Cities offer a way to adapt our built environment to the changing climate, increase resiliency and help restore and promote biodiversity. They increase blue-green spaces in our cities, help filter and clean water runoff, promote greater infiltration to recharge the water table and restore the natural water cycle, all of which helps us to survive and thrive despite increased rainfall with benefits for biodiversity and human health and wellbeing.'' -

Martin Sing, National Market Leader-Energy and Sustainability, WSP Canada

The Rise of Sponge Cities

The term "sponge city" was first coined in China in response to the country's rapid urbanization and increasing vulnerability to flooding. According to an article posted in RADII, a Chinese Architect named Dr. Yu Kongjian, developed the ‘’sponge city’’ model and has helped how we think of landscape architecture. Sponge cities and are designed to retain, clean, and reuse stormwater. Unlike concrete pavements that separate water from the natural ecosystem, sponge cities utilize natural wetlands to absorb water into the soil before it can flow into urban streets, therefore providing a water resilient threshold.

In 2015, the Chinese government launched the Sponge City Initiative, aiming to transform 30% of urban areas into sponge cities by 2030. China was the first country to utilize the sponge city approach to mitigating water management problems during typhoon season and since then, the concept has gained traction globally, with cities around the world adopting similar strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change and promote sustainable development.

Key Principles of a Sponge City

At the heart of the sponge city concept are several key principles:

  • Permeable Surfaces: Sponge cities incorporate permeable pavements, green roofs, and other porous materials to allow rainwater to infiltrate the ground instead of running off into storm drains.

  • Water Retention and Storage: These cities utilize a variety of green infrastructure, such as rain gardens, bioswales, and retention ponds, to capture and store rainwater for later use.

  • Natural Waterways: By restoring and preserving natural waterways, sponge cities help to maintain natural hydrological processes, reduce erosion, and provide habitat for wildlife.

  • Water Recycling: Greywater recycling and rainwater harvesting systems are integrated into the urban infrastructure to reduce dependence on freshwater sources and alleviate pressure on municipal water supplies.

Impact on Biodiversity

The development of sponge cities has the potential to have a significant positive impact on biodiversity conservation in urban areas:

  • Habitat Creation: By incorporating green spaces, wetlands, and natural waterways into urban environments, sponge cities provide valuable habitat for a diverse range of plant and animal species. These green corridors can support wildlife migration, nesting, and foraging, contributing to urban biodiversity.

  • Species Diversity: The presence of diverse habitats within sponge cities supports a wide array of species, including birds, insects, amphibians, and small mammals. By promoting species diversity, these cities enhance ecosystem resilience and ecosystem services such as pollination and pest control.

  • Water Quality Improvement: By reducing runoff pollution and filtering contaminants from stormwater, sponge cities improve water quality in rivers, lakes, and streams. Clean waterways support aquatic biodiversity, including fish, amphibians, and aquatic plants, and create healthier ecosystems for both wildlife and humans.

  • Climate Resilience: The sponge city approach helps to mitigate the impacts of climate change, such as increased frequency and intensity of rainfall events and rising temperatures. By managing stormwater more effectively, these cities reduce the risk of flooding and erosion, protecting both human infrastructure and natural habitats.

Case Studies

Several cities around the world have embraced the concept of sponge cities and are leading the way in implementing innovative strategies for urban water management and biodiversity conservation: 

  • Rotterdam, Netherlands: Rotterdam has implemented a comprehensive water management plan that includes green roofs, permeable pavements, and water squares to capture and store rainwater. These measures have not only reduced the risk of flooding but also created new habitat for birds, insects, and plants in the city center.

  • Singapore: Known for its innovative approach to urban planning, Singapore has integrated green infrastructure into its urban landscape, including rooftop gardens, vertical greenery, and bioswales. These features help to cool the city, mitigate urban heat island effects, and support biodiversity in a densely populated environment.

  • Portland, Oregon, USA: Portland has long been a pioneer in sustainable urban development and water management. The city's extensive network of green streets, rain gardens, and eco-roofs has transformed the urban landscape, providing habitat for native wildlife and improving water quality in local rivers and streams.

Challenges and Opportunities

While sponge cities offer numerous benefits for biodiversity conservation and sustainable urban development, they also face several challenges:

  • Cost: Implementing green infrastructure and retrofitting existing urban areas can be expensive, requiring significant upfront investment. However, the long-term benefits in terms of flood mitigation, water quality improvement, and biodiversity conservation often outweigh the initial costs.

  • Planning and Design: Designing and planning sponge cities require interdisciplinary collaboration between urban planners, landscape architects, engineers, and ecologists. Ensuring the integration of green infrastructure into the built environment requires careful coordination and creative solutions.

  • Public Awareness and Engagement: Engaging local communities in the planning and implementation of sponge city projects is crucial for their success. Building public awareness of the benefits of green infrastructure and fostering a sense of ownership among residents can help to ensure the long-term sustainability of these initiatives.


Sponge cities represent a paradigm shift in urban water management, offering a holistic approach to sustainable development that benefits both people and the planet. By mimicking the natural functions of sponges, these cities can reduce the risk of floods, improve water quality, and enhance biodiversity in urban areas. As the world continues to urbanize and face the challenges of climate change, sponge cities offer a promising solution for creating resilient, livable, and environmentally friendly cities of the future.

#InternationalDayforBiologicalDiversity #SustainableDevelopment #SpongeCities

Authored by Johanne Gallagher, ARKANCE Strategic Delivery Lead, Sustainability.


For over 20 years the brands under ARKANCE company, have been providing software solutions and professional services to Architectural, Engineering, Construction and Manufacturing industries helping them to understand the role of digitalization for the built environment. Businesses both large and small utilize ARKANCE's dedicated industry experts to help navigate technologies as they emerge, driving efficiency and improving workflows. With a global focus on reducing emissions and increased focus directed towards industry, ARKANCE are now turning their attention to providing the linkages between using technology to digitize, and at the same time leveraging the valuable data insights it brings to build more sustainably. ARKANCE are passionate about helping their customers understand how the technologies they use today can help them to step towards net zero in the future, to build a better world.