The Rainwater-in-Context Initiative works to institute rainwater management practices that strengthen and fully complement New Urbanism at all scales. High-performance rainwater solutions and dense, walkable urbanism can benefit each other when skillfully coordinated.

However, rainwater management policies that fail to recognize the value of urban density may impair water quality at the larger watershed scale. Rainwater management practices that misunderstand contextual urban design may impair the functioning and attractiveness of walkable built environments.

Recent years have witnessed a growing interest in green infrastructure and low-impact design. Rainwater regulations are becoming ever more stringent, but often without a clear understanding of and commitment to new urbanism. The Initiative engages with policymakers, scholars, and practitioners to counter the growing trend of poorly framed policies and practices.


The Initiative has a record of substantial accomplishments since its formation in 2010. The Initiative has worked with state, local, and federal EPA officials to improve existing and proposed regulations. Initiative members have presented at professional conferences and engaged in public debates with leading practitioners. Members have written articles for professional audiences, including a series published in Stormwater Magazine. The Initiative has commented on rainwater credits in both the LEED and Sustainable Sites rating systems. Members have collaborated on competition entries that demonstrate the superior performance of new urban design.

Initiative Tenets - These are the core principles of our initiative agreed upon by our subcommittee of expert engineers, designers, and administrators

  • Settlement patterns matter. The acreage consumed by sprawl is a terrible impact on the environment. The combination of compact development and natural land preservation can reduce sprawl.
  • All scales should be addressed, from site to watershed. Current approaches focus on the site and usually ignore impacts at the watershed scale. This can favor sprawl and make it harder to infill or build compact urbanism.
  • Both per-acre and per-capita impacts need to be considered. Current approaches focus on per-acre impacts, which encourages low density. Per-capita measurements recognize the inherent benefits of urban density.
  • Context-sensitive design and regulations are needed to support good urbanism. These tools tailor rainwater solutions to their immediate context. They can create beautiful and active built environments, instead of the awkward and subfunctional insertions common to more conventional approaches.
  • Employ community-based best management practices. The flexibility to use shared and offsite solutions can ease the burden on small and dense sites, and can promote larger, more contiguous parklands with higher ecological function.
  • Use hydrology science, not arbitrary half measures. Some systems and regulations try to circumvent scientific rigor with politically negotiated settlements and dumbed-down calculations. While this may be slightly easier, it can put excessive demands on dense sites, with little scientific justification.
  • Use a generalist approach based on durable principles. The industry's concerns tend to fluctuate, latching onto one or two solutions (such as onsite infiltration) to the exclusion of all the other tools that make up a full toolkit of rainwater management practices.

Initiative Activities

Rainwater-in-Context at the Annual Congress

Get Involved

The Initiative welcomes support and participants at all levels, and seeks new ideas to pursue and extend its agenda. For news, discussion, and debate, contact rainwater (at) cnu.org to join the Rainwater-In-Context listserv.

The Rainwater-In-Context Initiative has been made possible by the generous support of the members of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Articles and Resources

N Willamette and Denver Ave, Portland, OR

Tools and Case Studies

For additional articles, resources, and case studies, click here