Managing urban riverscapes: an assessment framework to integrate social-ecological values and physical processes

Brian M. Murphy*, Kathryn L. Russell, Simon Mould, Geoff Vietz, Peter A. Nelson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    The services that rivers provide and how they affect the landscape plays a dominate role in urban planning and development. Urban riverscapes, which consist of stream channels, their floodplains, biotic communities, and manmade features, are complex social-ecological and hydrogeomorphic systems. Yet, despite recognition of their place and value, rivers are often degraded in urban settings. Successfully managing urban riverscapes requires improved methods to assess them and to more effectively link stressors to values, and to incorporate these considerations in planning. Assessment of urban riverscapes’ physical condition and function—a hydrogeomorphic assessment—is necessary to make these links, and inform more appropriate management strategies for sustainable and valued riverscape systems. The framework and methods used for such an assessment should be appropriate to the urban context, insofar as they are applicable to a range of streams from lightly degraded to highly utilized or constructed. Above all, the framework must prioritize the connection of human communities to riverscapes. In this article, we outline a framework for urban riverscape assessment which considers four facets of urban riverscapes: human values, hydrology, geomorphology, and ecology. The four facets, assessed across multiple nested scales, provide a flexible basis for context-driven hydrogeomorphic assessment, which is vital to informing better planning and management of urban riverscapes. The framework can be integrated with other facets (e.g. geochemical, aquatic ecology) depending on the scope of the assessment. By linking intrinsic, relational, and use-based values to physical conditions, watershed managers can select relevant and measurable indicators that directly inform interventions in the riverscape, catchment, or urban zones to improve riverscape function and urban vitality through planning mechanisms. This assessment framework facilitates dialogue between managers, practitioners, scientists, and the community; enabling technical and non-technical inputs to the development of assessment criteria, and a shared vision to inform targets and goals.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number115862
    Pages (from-to)1-14
    Number of pages14
    JournalJournal of Environmental Management
    Early online date31 Aug 2022
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2022


    • Assessment
    • Community values
    • Hydrogeomorphology
    • Social-ecology
    • Stream management
    • Urban riverscapes


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