Ripple: Making Connections between Water and Climate Change in our Towns
Ripple proposes a collaborative place-based approach to climate resilient green space in towns. The team worked with a community in Ballina (Ireland) that had faced socio-economic challenges to see if a model of respectful support, listening and engagement could generate a positive ripple-effect. Together they created the Paradise Garden, a haven for humans and wildlife where rainwater is slowed through a series of rills, wells and natural attenuation on its way to the adjacent river.
Ballina, County Mayo
It refers to a physical transformation of the built environment (hard investment)
As a representative of an organization, in partnership with other organisations
Name of the organisation(s): University College Dublin (UCD) / Centre for Irish Towns (CfIT) Type of organisation: University or another research institution First name of representative: Sarah Last name of representative: Cotterill Gender: Female Nationality: United Kingdom Function: Assistant Professor, UCD School of Civil Engineering and Ripple Project Co-Lead Address (country of permanent residence for individuals or address of the organisation)<br/>Street and number: School of Civil Engineering, Newstead Building, University College Dublin Town: Dublin Postal code: D04 V1W8 Country: Ireland Direct Tel:+353 1 716 3218 E-mail:email@example.com Website:https://people.ucd.ie/sarah.cotterill
Name of the organisation(s): University College Dublin (UCD) / Centre for Irish Towns (CfIT) Type of organisation: University or another research institution First name of representative: Orla Last name of representative: Murphy Gender: Female Nationality: Ireland Function: Assistant Professor, UCD School of Architecture Planning and Environmental Policy/ Ripple Project Lead / CfIT Co-Director Address (country of permanent residence for individuals or address of the organisation)<br/>Street and number: University College Dublin Town: Dublin Postal code: D04 V1W8 Country: Ireland Direct Tel:+353 86 863 4361 E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org Website:https://people.ucd.ie/o.murphy
Name of the organisation(s): University College Dublin (UCD) / Centre for Irish Towns (CfIT) Type of organisation: University or another research institution First name of representative: Philip Last name of representative: Crowe Gender: Male Nationality: Ireland Function: Assistant Professor, UCD School of Architecture Planning and Environmental Policy/ Ripple Project Co-Lead / CfIT Co-Director Address (country of permanent residence for individuals or address of the organisation)<br/>Street and number: University College Dublin Town: Dublin Postal code: D04 V1W8 Country: Ireland Direct Tel:+353 1 716 2770 E-mail:email@example.com Website:https://people.ucd.ie/philip.crowe1
Public green spaces, common in housing estates throughout Ireland, represent a significant untapped resource for climate action, through their potential transformation as water resilient, productive and socially cohesive public space.
Ripple was one of fifteen projects supported by the first Creative Ireland Climate Action Call. The aim was to trial a collaborative place-based approach to climate resilient green space in towns, with a specific focus on water. We planned to work with a community in Ballina to demonstrate how inclusive co-design could support local action-based climate initiatives. A core tenet of climate resilience is to “leave no person or place behind”. The research team was keen to trial this approach with a community that had faced socio-economic challenges to see if a model of respectful support, listening and engagement could generate a positive ripple-effect.
A set of tools was developed that could be scaled up and out for application in other communities in Ireland and beyond. UCD Centre for Irish Towns was the lead applicant in collaboration with Ballina Green Towns, artist Ríonach Néill and Mayo County Council.
The project involved Storymapping, Co-Design, Making and Evaluation stages. During Storymapping we gathered the experiences and perspectives of residents about water, and the use and users of their neighbourhood green spaces. In the next stage, 16 prospective ideas were co-designed, and subsequently voted upon, to select one idea to implement. The preferred idea – the Paradise Garden – built in the 3rd stage of the project, is a climate friendly intergenerational amenity space and a haven for wildlife. It features a tree nursery for local oaks, heritage fruit trees, vegetable beds, pollinator friendly planting, and nature based play. Rainwater is slowed through a series of rills, wells and natural attenuation features on its way to the river. The project was evaluated through a participatory Ripple Effect Mapping process.
Ripple affirms the need to value and include all life forms, reducing the impact of human activities to not exceed planetary boundaries. It sees the potential of underused green space in residential areas to counteract the negative effects of intense rainfall, to capture polluted runoff from roads, and to alleviate flooding. Green spaces can act more like sponges, whilst also providing amenity space for intergenerational play, rest, and local food production.
The implemented idea, co-designed with and created by residents – the Paradise Garden – is a haven for humans, animals and birds. Irish grown, organic, pollinator-friendly plants were sought for the bog garden and perennial beds, whilst heritage fruit trees and acorns from local woodlands ensure that native species can flourish.
Rain water is guided through the garden to a well, where it slowly diffuses to the boggy rain garden, and is held there before percolating into the soil. Water tolerant planting thrives in the boggier areas and willow arches soak up excess water. Two large raised beds improve the drainage for growing vegetables, and fruit trees are planted further up the slope in a sunny, well-drained spot. Both the planting and hard landscaping are designed to work with the natural topography and soil moisture to create areas of shelter, produce, beauty and play.
Where previously the water retention in this part of the estate was seen as a reason to avoid this space, it is now an amenity where water is enjoyed and valued as a key part of the natural ecosystem.
Wooden nature based play elements, including a water rill, mancala board, and log seat engage people of all ages to pause and interact with each other and nature. The garden contains a mix of elements that provide instant impact, such as the local limestone well and the handcrafted wooden features, whilst acknowledging a longer term view of nature through vegetable beds and the tree nursery, where native oak seedlings are nurtured.
Ripple reconnected local residents with the experience and values of nature in their neighbourhood. Residents shared their knowledge and experience of wildlife in the area, along with places to sit in the sun and places where water collected. This was collated using stickers, handwritten notes and drawings on a large format map of the estate produced by the project team. The was summarised on an illustrated story map which was distributed to all residents after the workshop.
Workshops were designed to reinforce a sense of belonging to a place. Historic photographs were shared with residents and acted as reminders of the value of the River Brusna and the cultural heritage of the mills, pools, weirs and communities whose lives intersected with the river in its past.
Artist Ríonach Ní Néill used hydrochromic paint to engage residents with the sensory experience of water. Outdoor workshops in the estate took place in our Ripple shelters, adorned with water reactive raindrops. Participants then drew their ideas on these raindrop canvases, which were then revealed when it rained.
Residents imagined climate resilient ideas to implement and voted for their favourite, the Paradise Garden. They worked with the team to make this garden and have since taken charge of caring for it, planting and tending it, and engaging with the many ways in which rain water is gathered and slowed on its journey back to the adjacent river.
This long term value of this garden will change in time, as plants mature and with the continued input of the residents. They have already planted onions and garlic in the vegetable beds, additional fruit trees and wildflower seeds to add to the initial planting scheme which included around 60 shrubs, 400 perennials and 1000 bulbs, as well as 15 trees and 20 fruit bushes. Ripple challenges our ideas of aesthetics to place value on co-creation, on time spent together in nature and on care and observation of our natural environment.
Ripple was designed to be piloted in an area categorised on a national index as being of high deprivation, to deliberately try to address the just transition for decarbonisation - to leave no one and no place behind. The project aims to put people and communities at the heart of the design process, giving a voice to those who may not ordinarily have opportunities to do so. We sought to place value on their deep knowledge and love of the neighbourhood, and empower them to co-design, negotiate and make positive changes.
All aspects of the project were subject to rigorous ethical review to provide for maximum inclusion for people regardless of their age, ability, ethnicity or social-economic status. Great care was taken with all communications, to share the outputs and updates with all residents through a range of means. Leaflet drops to all households kept residents updated. Residents were invited to interact and connect with the project in a variety of ways - by direct participation, through social media, by contributing to our outdoor notice board and postbox, or by having a casual chat with our project coordinator on the ground. All workshops were carefully designed to be universally accessible by using visual, written and verbal modes of communication. Tokens of gratitude that valued the time and energy that residents shared with the team were offered at each event; a warm hot chocolate, a packet of seeds, or a plant to take home.
The detailed design of the Paradise Garden is accessible, open to all users, human and more than human. The estate now opens its arms beyond its boundaries to walkers and visitors to enjoy and be part of this experience.
The Karen Community Garden and local secondary school shared their physical and knowledge resources with the community and have established links with the residents that will continue to grow and “ripple out” to the broader town and beyond, and foster new ways of living together based on shared social values.
Residents of the Greenhills estate were involved in the project from its outset, when the project team initially met with representatives of the community, to explain the project and gauge support. Two main groups continued to be involved in the detailed design of each stage of the project for its duration: the residents association and the biodiversity group. They helped to promote the project in the broader neighbourhood, helped us to ensure that any concerns were communicated to the team and dealt with promptly. They, along with the broader cohort of residents attended all workshops during the year, and got to share their own experiences, perspectives and visions for the neighbourhood, as well as their concerns.
Sixteen ideas were put forward by residents during the co-design stage. Voting, which took place in two stages, then shortlisted these to a final two. One idea - a willow bus stop - was favoured by a lot of residents, however, a history of anti-social behaviour at the proposed location meant that a small number of residents opposed this idea. Respect for all voices, and a principle of only implementing choices to which there were no objections, helped the project to arrive at a single unanimously favoured idea - the Paradise Garden.
The residents of the estate benefit from this beautiful new nature friendly garden, its edible planting, places to stop and rest, and elements for nature-based play. The garden was completed in December 2022, and already the residents have planted more trees, vegetables and wildflower seeds. As Spring arrives the garden will burst into life, ready to be enjoyed, tended and further developed by both the residents of the Greenhills estate, and the broader community.
Residents from 200 households in Greenhills Estate, Ballina were directly engaged with the project in 2022. The project is now in the hands of the residents who contributed their knowledge, experience, energy and vision. Without them it simply would not have been possible.
The Ripple project team was a collaboration between:
UCD Centre for Irish Towns -
Orla Murphy School of Architecture Planning and Environmental Policy (APEP)
(Note: Orla is a member of the New European Bauhaus High Level Roundtable)
Dr Sarah Cotterill, UCD School of Civil Engineering
Dr Philip Crowe, UCD APEP and CIv.Eng.
Rebecca O’Malley, Project Coordinator based in UCD APEP
Ballina Green Towns -
Cllr Mark Duffy (Independent), Mayo County Council and Cathaoirleach of Ballina MD
Kevin Loftus, Architect, ACT Studio
Visual Artist -
Ríonach Ní Néill, Ciotóg
Additional contributors and local stakeholders:
Roisín Byrne, Landscape Architect
Martin McGarrigle, River Ecologist
The Karen Community Garden
Kilcross Construction (project build)
Shaws Garden Centre (project build)
ABC of Gardening (project build)
Alan Merdith Studio Joinery (project build)
St Muredach’s Secondary School, Ballina provided the project team with an office in their Innovation Hub. Students here got to learn about the project and intend to visit UCD labs later this year.
Mayo County Council gave their full support to the project, advised on service connection, maintenance and technical design guidance, including rain garden implementation, for the Paradise Garden.
Ripple was funded under the first round of Creative Ireland’s Climate Action Call. Creative Ireland provided support on evaluation, knowledge sharing across teams and local contact points. Creative Ireland received their funding from the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Co-design and knowledge exchange were central to the project’s implementation and a key contributor to its success. The Ripple team was composed of architects, an engineer, a visual artist and a politician. Through participatory processes, we worked with residents from the Greenhills Estate to understand, map and record their experience, perspectives and knowledge around their neighbourhood green space in relation to water and climate change. Using a co-design process, over six workshops, residents shared their insights, aspirations and hopes for their neighbourhood, and jointly co-designed 16 potential projects to improve the retention of water, biodiversity, and amenity value of parts of the estate.
At times, we brought in external expertise such as ecologist, Martin McGarrigle, to discuss water quality and river health; representatives from the local Karen community garden, who shared their knowledge and experience of growing fruit and vegetables; and a nature-based landscape architect, Roisin Byrne, who worked with the Ripple team and residents to develop and formalise the co-designed ideas into a coherent, technical design.
The design reflects the cross-disciplinary input, not only in the design itself, but in the methods in which the design came about, and the way in which the project team, and wider stakeholders, facilitated the projects’ implementation and subsequent adoption by the local community. Ripple demonstrated how engineering, architecture and creative art practice can combine to achieve more than the sum of their parts. The combination of approaches and skills was vital to its success. The combination of engineering, architecture and creative arts practice brought science, spatial understanding and visual creativity together in a tangible way. This collaboration demonstrated the potential of trans-disciplinary research and action to have a positive impact on the revitalisation of Irish towns and the transition to a low carbon society.
The most tangible result is the Paradise Garden. This is a beautiful, climate resilient garden designed by, for and with the residents of Greenhills. The garden includes a rain garden, tree nursery, heritage apple orchard, fruit bushes, raised vegetable beds, seating, and nature-based play elements.
Aside from this, a huge number of milestones and outcomes were achieved, from the conceptualisation of 16 potential projects, to the documentation of stories and knowledge. The Ripple team developed a set of collaborative processes and tools which are scalable for similar engagement projects. Over 200 people engaged with the events across the year. The project inspired a broad section of the community, who might not normally get involved with addressing climate change issues to constructively engage. Intergenerational connections were made through workshops which were designed for different age groups and outlooks.
Other outputs included the of an eco-code; the creation of bespoke engagement tools, ranging from prompt cubes, to voting sheets and 2D / 3D maps of Greenhills Estate; and interactive elements such as the gazebos painted with hydrochromic paint. We sought and achieved Full Ethical Approval for each Stage of the project from the UCD Human Research Ethics Committee.
Our findings highlighted the following:
1. Building on strengths works better than a focus on weaknesses.
2. Building trust takes time.
3. Keeping everyone informed with clear communication is vital.
4.Preconceived solutions are not necessarily those that are desirable to those who live in a place.
5. People have a deep understanding of the place where they live.
6. Diverse opinions and perspectives co-exist within communities and need to be respected.
7. Procurement is complex and often slow.
8. Tangible outcomes are an important return on investment for communities’ trust.
A full list of results, outcomes and impact is available in the report (attached)
Ripple innovates beyond mainstream engaged research projects on climate resilience as follows:
Radically inclusive ethical approach: By earning the trust of a community in an area of high deprivation, gathering the perspectives of those who know and love their neighbourhood, it flips the usual model of high level experts, to one of bottom-up action, based on locally defined priorities. The project team were co-learners, whose role was to facilitate and help to realise climate resilient actions that were place-based and community owned.
Empowering: This approach focuses on the positive - what can be done - instead of what needs to be ‘fixed’. The net impact is empowering. Residents agreed the Paradise Garden is a beginning and not an end. They felt empowered to shape and steward their garden; to plan future projects; and to share their experience with other communities. One resident noted “Every neighbourhood should have the opportunity to take part in a project like this”.
Scalable: One of the project’s aims was to test the scalability of our approach. Underused green space is ubiquitous in Irish towns, and the success of Ripple shows the methodology is replicable. The tools developed can be used in any community. The Ripple Effect Mapping demonstrates how this outward impact is already happening in Ballina.
Transdisciplinary by design: Too often participatory projects are narrowed by discipline. By bringing engineering, architecture, visual arts and landscape architecture together, the outcome encompasses best practice in water management, biodiversity, inclusive spatial design, and beauty.
Regenerative: Ripple goes beyond a sustainable approach to a regenerative one. The regeneration of this green space will benefit local water quality, biodiversity, and healthy soils and food. It is also socially regenerative - connecting people of all ages and abilities in a place that is beautiful, inclusive and ready to burst into life with the seasons.
The aim was to co-create and test an engaged approach to the design of a climate resilience green space, involving residents, artists and academics. This was achieved in 5 stages:
Stage 0 involved aspects of the project set up, from recruitment to seeking ethical approval, initial engagement with stakeholders and sourcing project materials.
In Stage 1 (Storytelling) we distributed a physical questionnaire to 200 households to record baseline quantitative and qualitative data on attitudes to climate action and water. We held the first on-site workshop where residents were invited to add their stories and perspectives to a map. The results were combined into an illustrated map which was issued to all households with an invitation for the next event.
In Stage 2 (Co-Design) we held three workshops to collaboratively design climate resilient ideas for their estate. The first workshop generated 16 different ideas from residents of all ages. Then residents were then invited to vote for their top five ideas and to discuss any concerns. Finally, the top two ranked ideas were refined in the third workshop by staking out their location and scale on the ground, taking soil moisture and composition measurements and discussing specific plants and materials that could be used. The team appointed Roisin Byrne, a landscape architect, to advise on and develop the ideas.
In Stage 3 (Making) we developed a detailed design and appointed contractors. Mayo County Council advised on services and gave input on future maintenance. We ran two workshops: one focused on river health and water quality with an ecologist, and a second where we discussed plant care and maintenance. We also organised a tour of the Karen Community Garden.
Finally, in Stage 4 (Evaluation) we issued a concluding questionnaire to all households, and used ‘Ripple Effect Mapping’ to discuss and document what was achieved, how residents were engaged and the impacts that resulted from the project.
The decision to base Ripple in a suburban housing estate was made, in order to test whether this process could work in other similar places. Suburban and peripheral housing neighbourhoods are widespread in Ireland. Most of them include notional green spaces that, while included as part of the planning process, are almost always underutilised grassed areas that require regular maintenance, but have little social or physical resilience. Places like these offer significant potential to absorb rain water run-off, to be more biodiverse, to become habitats and corridors for nature, and importantly to be of more social value to the communities who live near them. The success of Ripple demonstrates that this process can impact positively on these places and can be scaled up and out to thousands of similar places.
A simple and replicable set of tools and tips was compiled as part of the project evaluation. These tools have been tested and shown to work and are designed to be adaptable to any local situation. Simple adherence to some of the principles of the project - especially with regard to respective communication, inclusion, gathering and listening to feedback at all stages - can be bedded into similar projects. The potential exists for local authorities to use the methodology and tools in any of the neighbourhoods in their charge, deploying in house skills. This also has the potential to build strong relationships between communities and their local authority, as collaborative partners in the stewardship and future regeneration of the place they know and love, and as respected partners in caring for and building cohesive and resilient communities.
For detail of the replicable tools and tips, see Section 5 of the Final Report as attached.
Climate change/ resilience - UN SDG 13.1 and 13.2
Ripple helps to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity of local communities to climate-related hazards of flooding, drought, heat events, and food insecurity, by demonstrating at a small, local - but replicable - scale how flooding and run-off can be absorbed in a garden that filters water, increases food availability for humans and non humans, and provides shade and wind protection.
Social cohesion / community empowerment - UN SDG 3, 10, 11, 17.17
We act better when we act together. Ripple demonstrates the need to empower local communities, beginning with those at the margins and at risk of deprivation, to recognise the value of their shared experience and to have confidence to take local action.
Food security - 2.3, 2.4, 15
Ripple aims to raise awareness of, and to empower local communities to grow their own food, as part of community-based stewardship of local water resilient green space. It connects people with the tangible experience of food production, and its relationship to water, biodiversity and more than human ecosystems.
Biodiversity loss - UN SDG 15.1, 15.3, 15.5
In gathering and sharing the knowledge and experience of local residents, Ripple brought attention to the value of the life that exists in our waterways and neighbourhoods, alongwith simple ways to protect, sustain and regenerate it.
Water quality / quantity - UN SDG 6.3, 6.4, 6.5, 6.6, 14
Life on earth is dependent on water. By focusing on water as the first point of engagement with climate action, Ripple demonstrated that in minimising pollution of waterways, reducing run-off and minimising risk of flooding, many other positive actions flow - including enhancing biodiversity, building food security and local capacity to act.
Ripple is small and local, but by “rippling outwards” this approach can have positive impacts on global challenges.