The development of roadside green swales in the Chinese Sponge City Program: Challenges and opportunities

Lingwen Lu, Faith Ka Shun Chan, Matthew Johnson, Fangfang Zhu, Yaoyang Xu

Research output: Journal PublicationReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Roadside green swales have emerged as popular stormwater management infrastructure in urban areas, serving to mitigate stormwater pollution and reduce urban surface water discharge. However, there is a limited understanding of the various types, structures, and functions of swales, as well as the potential challenges they may face in the future. In recent years, China has witnessed a surge in the adoption of roadside green swales, especially as part of the prestigious Sponge City Program (SCP). These green swales play a crucial role in controlling stormwater pollution and conserving urban water resources by effectively removing runoff pollutants, including suspended solids, nitrogen, and phosphorus. This review critically examines recent research findings, identifies key knowledge gaps, and presents future recommendations for designing green swales for effective stormwater management, with a particular emphasis on ongoing major Chinese infrastructure projects. Despite the growing global interest in bioswales and their significance in urban development, China’s current classification of such features lacks a clear definition or specific consideration of bioswales. Furthermore, policymakers have often underestimated the adverse environmental effects of road networks, as reflected in existing laws and planning documents. This review argues that the construction and maintenance of roadside green swales should be primarily based on three critical factors: Wellthought- out road planning, suitable construction conditions, and sustainable long-term funding. The integration of quantitative environmental standards into road planning is essential to effectively address the challenge of pollution from rainfall runoff. To combat pollution associated with roads, a comprehensive assessment of potential pollution loadings should be carried out, guiding the appropriate design and construction of green swales, with a particular focus on addressing the phenomenon of first flush. One of the major challenges faced in sustaining funds for ongoing maintenance after swale construction. To address this issue, the implementation of a green finance platform is proposed. Such a platform would help ensure the availability of funds for continuous maintenance, thus maximizing the long-term effectiveness of green swales in stormwater management. Ultimately, the findings of this review aim to assist municipal governments in enhancing and implementing future urban road designs and SCP developments, incorporating effective green swale strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)566-581
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers of Engineering Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • bioswale
  • grass swale
  • infiltration swale
  • sponge city
  • wet swale

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Decision Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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