Water Sensitive SA

Debrecen: Europe’s most liveable city?

When it comes to great urban design and best practice water sensitive approaches, Debrecen, a city just over two hours drive east of Budapest in Hungary, ticks so many boxes.

Debrecen has all the hallmarks of a well-planned city that places people and how they live and move about the city at the forefront of design. Tree-lined shared paths connect the city centre with the university and tourist hubs. New community spaces are multi-functional: Lawned areas provide a mix of intimate picnic nooks and large areas for active play; sheltered bench seating make excellent stall sites for pop up markets; and cubbies in formal plazas are disguised as art installations. Each incorporate elements of water sensitive urban design that complement the overall design intent.

A regional city with a population of 200,000, Debrecen is known for its universities, and as a tourist hotspot and host of international sporting events. An enormous aqua park located in the Great Forest is a holiday destination for both Hungarian citizens and tourists further afield. And it is the architectural design of the aqua park that truly amazes.

European map indicating Debrecen, Hungary

The stunning green roofs and walls of the Debrecen aqua park create a cool refuge for the local community and tourists when the temperature rises. Green walls wrap around the four-story aqua park structures to soften an otherwise harsh mass of concrete. A mass of ivy grows within a series of elevated planter boxes, creating a green blanket over the 200 mm deep wire cages that are fastened to the tower structure. The planter boxes supporting the green wall have been installed every three metres, which appears to be the sweet spot in growing medium volume versus plant growth/coverage.

Debrecen Aqua Park green wall. Source: Water Sensitive SA

From the top of the water slide towers you look down on the restaurants that line the perimeter of the aqua park, which service both aqua park users and the general public. The restaurant’s roofs are softened by an expansive green roof structure that seamlessly blends into the nearby parkland space via vegetated ramps.

Debrecen Aqua Park green roofs. Source: Water Sensitive SA

Debrecen’s recently upgraded town square provides ample shaded lawned areas for residents and tourists alike to gather, incorporating a simple yet mesmerising water feature and night time light display which defies the traditional European fully paved square model. A mini green roof atop a pod cubby house introduces the younger generation to green roof concepts while they play. Existing trees are protected from high traffic in the plaza with porous asphalt, ensuring stormwater penetrates into the soil.

Transit corridors, serviced by a tram network, provide shaded shared paths that enable a comfortable 25-minute walk from the city centre to the university and tourist parks. Strategically placed rows of trees fill the urban landscape, shading a vast network of walkways and protecting the sides of buildings from the afternoon sun.

Permeable paving is common place within the carparks and streetscape parking bays, and appears to have long-been a material of choice for verges and driveway crossovers.

The walkable city of Debrecen is an exemplar of urban greening and water sensitive urban design, uncovering urban design gems around every corner.


Debrecen town square, mall and streetscapes. Source: WSSA

Acknowledgement of Country

Water Sensitive SA acknowledges Aboriginal people as the First Peoples and Nations of the lands and waters we live and work upon, and we pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. We acknowledge and respect the deep spiritual connection and the relationship that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have to Country.