Pipe Dreams: Cities Get Creative With Water

The European Journal of Creative Practices in Cities and Landscapes. Vol 2, no 1 (2019)
ISSN 2612-0496

Pipe Dreams: Cities Get Creative With Water

Matthew BachICLEI (Germany)

Matthew joined ICLEI Europe as an experienced knowledge broker in 2017. He has been working on a broad range of topics from nature-based solutions to cultural heritage, and is currently the scientific coordinator for UrbanA, Urban arenas for sustainable and just cities, a new Horizon2020 project. Prior to ICLEI, Matthew worked globally in academia, the energy sector and international organizations. He holds degrees from Freiburg and Cambridge universities.

Anthony ColcloughEUROCITIES (Belgium)

Anthony Colclough holds an MA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College (NY) which he has been putting to good use unlocking the stories that lie beneath innovative policy and practice for the last 10 years. He works at EUROCITES on projects in the fields of mobility, smart cities, culture, environment and social affairs. This cross-cutting role allows him to create the hooks and see the links that open cities’ stories to the world.

Cristina GarzilloICLEI (Germany)

Employed with ICLEI since 2005. Having almost 20 years of experience working in and for local governments, Cristina is recognised for her work as expert in local sustainability processes, integrated management and governance as well as author of numerous publications in the field of local sustainability, cultural heritage and knowledge brokerage. Cristina is an external evaluator for the URBACT III programme and an expert for the European Commission and the Committee of the Regions. She can also draw on a wealth of academic experience gained from previous role as contract professor at the University of Parma.

Cécile HoupertEUROCITIES (Belgium)

After a Master degree in European affairs and international relations, Cécile joined EUROCITIES in 2015 as part of the culture team where she works as project officer for culture and cultural heritage. She was involved in the management of the Culture for Cities and Regions initiative, a three-year peer-learning programme for European cities and regions financed by the European Commission. She now coordinates EUROCITIES’ activities as part of the H2020 project ROCK, monitoring implementation in the 10 ROCK cities and organising peer-learning and capacity-building activities with partners. She is also involved in EUROCITIES’ culture forum and working groups related activities.

Published: 2019-12-20

Abstract

A photo and sound essay to demonstrate creative ways in which cities are using water to increase resilience, and bring comfort and stability to the lives of residents.

Keywords: water; resilience; urban planning; Porto; Rochdale; Lille; Wroclaw; Copenhagen.

“Water is the bloodstream of the biosphere and the determinant of our future,”1 says Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre. When it comes to cities, water has long been the wellspring of their development, remains today a strategic asset. Considering the yearly recurrence of extreme weather events, increasing in the face of climate change, most cities have come to realise the urgency of improving their urban resilience.2 And as many resilience specialists have pointed out, urban resilience cannot be achieved and sustained without urban water resilience.

A water resilient city should be well prepared to overcome the challenges associated with both too little and too much water. Cities and residents understand their vulnerability in the face of unpredictable weather. Extreme rainfall, floods generating sewer overflow, draughts and scarcity and rising sea level, are new daily realities for many environment departments in cities.

It is, however, the dose that makes the poison. Water is also a tremendous asset, too long under-utilised by urban planners. In a creative upsurge, cities are bringing long buried water back to the surface for great environmental, cultural and creative ends. New rivers, pools, ponds, lakes and fountains, and their green banks, are reducing the effect of urban heat islands, becoming community gathering spots, and improving local health and wellbeing.

Cities need to think of water as an opportunity and as a resource for economic development while also meeting the critical needs of their residents and the environment3. A blue revolution is underway in cities, and this photo and sound essay demonstrates some of the creative ways cities are using water to increase resilience, and bring comfort and stability to the lives of residents.

1 Daylighting

The second biggest city in Portugal, Porto, is suffering from extreme weather events as a result of climate change. To promote resilience, the city is linking blue and green infrastructures, creating natural spaces that improve water quality and function as permeable and shaded areas, engaging people with water.

Porto is bringing a hammer to the concrete, opening the soil and streams beneath. ‘Daylighting’ cracks open the pipes that have hidden rivers for decades and lets them flourish once again, reconnecting people with the water.

Fig. 1 Dewatering of the Granja stream / source: Águas do Porto (Porto Water Company)
Fig. 1 Dewatering of the Granja stream / source: Águas do Porto (Porto Water Company)

The new green spaces absorb excess rainwater to prevent flooding during rainy seasons. The new blue spaces reduce ambient temperature during hot periods and mitigate the ‘urban heat island’ effect.

Fig. 2 Granja stream before and after / source: Águas do Porto (Porto Water Company)
Fig. 2 Granja stream before and after / source: Águas do Porto (Porto Water Company)

Unleashing the water creates a chain reaction. First comes the water, then the greenery, then the people. Porto puts water at the heart of the city’s biophysical, economic, and social wellbeing. Water resources of the cities are for its citizens and public participation is a key factor. Water for the people, by the people.

Fig. 3: Águas do Porto (Porto Water Company)
Fig. 3: Águas do Porto (Porto Water Company)

Contact Rita Cunha, Manager, Storm Water, Streams and Beaches Department () for more information.

2 Trouble over bridged water

Rochdale, in Greater Manchester, opened up a 500 meter section of its river Roch which had been buried for a century. When it was discovered that a medieval bridge lay under the concrete cover, there was a movement among civil society to bring the bridge back to the city. This was initially quashed, but just over a decade later the decision was made to go ahead with the plan.

Fig. 4 Roch river daylighting timelapse https://youtu.be/x2AQkEG3O8Y.

By reducing the height of the bank and building a drop-in centre where people could learn about the river and its history, Rochdale fully exploited the natural and historical richness of the site. Increased footfall in the area brought economic benefits to local businesses.

The deculverting of the Roch was also an opportunity to remove debris that built up below the concrete cover, mitigating the risk of future floods.

Fig. 5 The brief uncovering of the Rochdale Bridge, 1996. Source: Copyright Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 2.0 via geography.org.uk.
Fig. 5 The brief uncovering of the Rochdale Bridge, 1996. Source: Copyright Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 2.0 via geography.org.uk.

An interesting dilemma arose when it was pointed out that parts of the concrete covering of the river were also of heritage significance. Dating from 1904, these sections were one of the earliest applications of the Hennebique reinforced concrete system.

It is important to remember that heritage involves recent as well as distant history, concrete as well as stone. However, the outcome of the dilemma in this case may be summarised by the image below: