Urban water features and fountains

  Playground in Darling Quarter, Sydney, Australia, 2011. Photo from ASPECT studio.


Urban water features and fountains are decorative elements found in urban landscapes, ranging from simple to elaborate designs. They typically consist of water jets, pools, or cascades, often adorned with sculptures or architectural elements. Water is pumped from a reservoir or underground source and circulated through pipes, creating various water patterns and effects. Recirculation systems collect and filter the water to maintain cleanliness and prevent waste. Some fountains incorporate lighting or music for added aesthetic appeal. Urban water features not only enhance the visual appeal of public spaces but also provide a sense of tranquility.

Urban water features, such as fountains and ponds, can contribute to cooling and humidity regulation in urban environments through a process called evaporative cooling. As water is exposed to air in the fountain or pond, some of it evaporates, absorbing heat from the surrounding environment. This evaporation process cools the air in the vicinity, creating a localized cooling effect. Additionally, the presence of water can increase humidity levels in the surrounding air, which can be beneficial in dry climates or during hot summer months when humidity levels are low (Zou & Zhang, 2021). Flowing water has a larger cooling effect than still water, while dispersed water like that from a fountain has the biggest cooling effect (Manteghi et al., 2015). Overall, urban water features play a role in mitigating the urban heat island effect and creating more comfortable outdoor environments for residents and visitors .

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Name of NbS

Urban water features and fountains

Type of NbS

Engineered interventions (not using vegetation)


urban water feature and fountains are suited to dense urban areas

The Three Rivers water feature in Ashburton. Photo from Google Maps

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

Water features and fountains have long been used in Indigenous cultures to cool and humidity indoor and courtyard environments (Gupta, 1984; Hynynen et al., 2012), though this is not common in Te Moananui Oceania contexts, where the ocean is often a ubiquitous presence. Despite this, the relationship between urban water features and fountains and Indigenous knowledge in Te Moananui Oceania could be multifaceted and context-specific.

In many local or Indigenous cultures in Te Moananui Oceania, water holds deep spiritual and cultural significance (Mihaere et al., 2024). Water features like fountains may evoke, celebrate or support traditional beliefs, rituals, or stories related to water as a life-giving element. Integrating Indigenous cultural motifs or design elements into urban water fountains can honor and celebrate Indigenous knowledge and heritage. This could include recreations or interpretations of traditional knowledge and practices related to water management, water sources, or gathering places, reflecting Indigenous approaches to water stewardship and conservation.

Involving Indigenous communities in the planning, design, and management of urban water fountains fosters meaningful engagement and collaboration. Indigenous elders, knowledge holders, and cultural practitioners may offer valuable insights into traditional water practices, place-based knowledge, and community preferences, ensuring that fountains are culturally appropriate and inclusive. If designed well, urban water features could become meaningful symbols of cultural diversity, environmental stewardship, and community identity.

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Climate change benefits
  • Changes in rainfall
  • Desertification
  • Drought
  • Increased temperatures
  • Reduced air quality
  • Reduced water quality
  • Urban heat island effect
  • Reduced fresh-water availability
  • Wildfire

Urban water fountains offer climate change adaptation benefits by providing localized cooling through evaporative processes, mitigating the urban heat island effect. By reducing ambient temperatures, fountains enhance outdoor comfort for residents and visitors, especially during heatwaves. Additionally, fountains contribute to increased humidity levels in dry urban environments, helping to alleviate heat stress. Their presence encourages outdoor recreation and social gatherings, fostering community resilience to extreme heat events. Moreover, incorporating sustainable water management practices in fountain design, such as rainwater harvesting or recycled water usage, promotes water conservation and resilience to drought conditions, supporting long-term climate adaptation efforts (Zou & Zhang, 2021).

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Climate change adapatation
  • Human physical health and wellbeing
  • Water security and quality

Urban water fountains provide numerous social and cultural benefits. They serve as focal points for community gatherings, leisure activities, and cultural events, fostering social cohesion and interaction. Fountains enhance the aesthetic appeal of urban spaces, creating landmarks and gathering spots for residents and tourists alike. Their calming sounds and visual beauty promote relaxation and stress relief, contributing to improved mental well-being (Hynynen et al., 2012). Additionally, water features often carry historical or symbolic significance, reflecting local heritage and identity.

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • Climate regulation
  • Freshwater
  • Habitat provision
  • Purification (of water, soil, air)

Urban water fountains provide ecological and biodiversity benefits by creating microhabitats for diverse flora and fauna. Aquatic plants can be part of urban water features, providing habitat and food for insects, birds, and small animals. Birds are attracted to fountains for drinking and bathing, increasing urban biodiversity. Additionally, fountains can support pollinators like bees and butterflies, contributing to urban ecosystem health. Water features also help cool urban environments, and providing refuge for heat-sensitive species.

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The Celeste Fountain (1892) in Place des Cocotiers in Noumea, New Caledonia, 2018. Photo by David Stanley.
Bucket Fountain, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. Photo by Sally.

Technical requirements

Urban water features and fountains must be carefully designed, installation, and maintained to ensure reliable and efficient operation, and compliance with safety and regulatory standards. The technical requirements of urban water features and fountains relate to various components including: a water supply (this could be rainwater, municipal, and or recycled); adequate water pressure and correctly sized pumping systems if required; filtration and treatment; plumbing infrastructure, electrical systems if required; control systems to regulate fountain operation; and access points for maintenance.

Issues and Barriers

Barriers to increased use of urban water features and fountains in Te Moananui Oceania include limited water resources, drought conditions, and water scarcity exacerbated by climate change. High construction and maintenance costs, along with limited funding and resources, pose financial challenges. Cultural considerations and community pirorities may influence design choices and acceptance. Urban water features must be kept clean to avoid attracting pests and diseases associated with stagnant water. Overcoming these barriers requires holistic approaches that address water management, funding, regulation, community engagement, and sustainability considerations.


Opportunities for urban water features and fountains in Te Moananui Oceania include enhancing public spaces, promoting tourism, and fostering community engagement. Water features can provide aesthetic appeal, and improve urban livability particularly as temperatures increase. They offer opportunities for cultural expression and reflection of Indigenous knowledge, enhancing local identity. Collaborative partnerships between government, businesses, and communities can leverage these opportunities to create vibrant and sustainable urban environments in Te Moananui Oceania.

Financial case

The financial case for urban water features and fountains in Te Moananui Oceania lies in their potential to enhance economic growth, and community well-being. These features attract people (including tourists), bolstering local economies through increased patronage of businesses and cultural attractions (Abdulkarim & Nasar, 2022). They may also improve property values and attract investment in surrounding areas. Public-private partnerships and innovative funding mechanisms can leverage diverse funding sources to support installation and maintenance. Overall, investment in urban water features, if designed well and located startegically to take maximum advantage of their cooling benefits, may offer long-term economic, social, and environmental returns for Te Moananui Oceania’s communities.

Faga Togo, Samoa, 1900. Photo from the George Grantham Bain Collection.
  • Abdulkarim, D., & Nasar, J. L. (2022). A Splash and a Crowd: Do Water Fountains and Storefronts Improve Plaza’s Visitability?. Environment and Behavior, 54(9-10), 1171-1194.
  • Gupta, V. (1984). Indigenous architecture and natural cooling. Energy and Habitat, 41-58.
  • Hynynen, A., Juuti, P., & Katko, T. (2012). Water fountains in the worldscape. International Water History Association and KehräMedia Inc.
  • Manteghi, G., bin Limit, H., & Remaz, D. (2015). Water bodies an urban microclimate: A review. Modern Applied Science, 9(6), 1.
  • Mihaere, S., Holman-Wharehoka, M. T. O., Mataroa, J., Kiddle, G. L., Pedersen Zari, M., Blaschke, P., & Bloomfield, S. (2024). Centring localised indigenous concepts of wellbeing in urban nature-based solutions for climate change adaptation: case-studies from Aotearoa New Zealand and the Cook Islands. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 12, 1278235.
  • Zou, M., & Zhang, H. (2021). Cooling strategies for thermal comfort in cities: a review of key methods in landscape design. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 28(44), 62640-62650.

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