Alleys and Flooding

Somewhere in Bruges, Belgium


When I visited Belgium a few weeks ago, beside their extravagant, laborious, and well-preserved architecture, I was impressed by how the Belgians manage their urban arteries — the squares and the alleyways. I visited multiple Belgian cities, both of the Flanders and the Wallonia, and no matter how differently they present themselves, everywhere I went, I would run into a public square connecting a bunch of spider-webbed streets together.

However, the focus here will be alleys. I had always been terrified by how the raining season would flood over the alleys surrounding my grandma’s house. Sometimes the rainwater would go higher than my ankles, and, to put it lightly, walking through that had never been pleasant. When I was researching for my paper, I discovered how some cities’ alley revitalization programs employ green architecture to deal with their flooding issues. But things should be observed first hand.

Above picture shows how the city of Bruges tries to keep itself nice and presentable during the blatant raining season (i.e. the whole year). After all, it is a tourist city with tourists outnumber the locals at any given time, according to a Belgian friend. The “Venice of the North” takes pride in its picturesque canal system as well as its beers, frites, and chocolates (very Belgian!). The point, again, is that the city’s economy revolves around tourism. And rain should not get in the way of that business.

So what one sees here is the management of water through micro land grading. Subtle, yet effective. Either the high points would be in the middle of the street so that the water floods to the sides, or vice versa. The former probably makes more sense in a more crowded area, as it would prevent flooding into the buildings. Plus, this picture also helps to point out that not every decoration needs to be “revitalized”. Being blandly functional sometimes is all it takes.

The thing about alleys in Saigon is that many of them are very narrow, partially because residents build homes into public land. So stormwater management becomes both a technical and a social challenge. At this point, I don’t know how the city plans to deal with these cases, but it definitely is an area to look into.


** The Green Alley Handbook of the City of Chicago is one good resource for further study into environmental strategies for alleyways.


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