Narrative Cartography: Capturing a Holistic Perspective on Waterscapes

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

Narrative Cartography: Capturing a Holistic Perspective on Waterscapes

Nancy CoulingDelft University of Technology (Netherlands)
ORCID https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9946-7051

Nancy Couling is a New Zealand architect who gained her B. Arch (hons) at the University of Auckland, a post-grad scholarship at Iuav, Venice and her PhD at the EPFL, Switzerland. Based in Berlin 1995-2010, she founded her own urban design practice cet-0/cet-01 with S. Schnorbusch (architect) and K. Overmeyer (Landscape architect) and taught at the TU Berlin. Currently a Marie Curie Fellowship holder at the TU Delft, she will take up an Assoc. Professorship at Bergen Architecture School in 2019.

Paola Alfaro d’AlençonBerlin Institute of Technology (Germany)

Paola Alfaro d’Alençon is a German architect (AK-Berlin) and urban researcher; Dipl.-Ing. Technische Universität Berlin, 2000. Dr.-Ing. in Urban Studies at the Technische Universität Berlin, 2011 and PhD in Architecture, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2013. Founding Member of the Urban Research and Design Laboratory/u Lab-Studio Berlin, awarded with the “Label Nationale Stadtentwicklung“ for innovative research from the Bundesinstitut für Bau-, Stadt- und Raumforschung (BBSR). Alfaro d’Alençon has been teaching and working as a senior researcher at the Technische Universität Berlin, Visiting Professor at the Dipartimento di Scienze per l’Architettura, Università degli Studi di Genova.

Medine AltiokRWTH Aachen (Germany)

Medine Altiok is a German architect, graduated from the AA London. She is founder of Mittelmeerland.org, an initiative dealing with the urban transformation in the Mediterranean territory. She has been teaching Architectural Design at ETH Zurich from 2005-10, as programme director of the Mittelmeerland-Visiting Schools at the AA London since 2011 and as Visiting Professor at Bilgi Uni Istanbul in 2016/17. She is currently researching for her PhD with RWTH Aachen and runs her own practice in Zurich.

Submitted: 2018-12-18 – Published: 2019-12-20

Abstract

Water territories challenge inherited, land-based methods of capturing their history. They are a vital commons, where social, technical, political and cultural interests intertwine, potentially also causing conflict. Attention is currently focused both on the ecological importance of the water cycle for human well-being and ecosystem services, as well as on the unpredictable aspects of water through the effects of climate change. This paper argues that such interconnected challenges require new tools and methods of conceptualising and visualising waterscapes. Narrative cartography developed with citizen’s input, reveals itself to be a highly inclusive methodology which can capture neglected knowledge about the past as well as propose visions for the future. This method is discussed in two different geographic contexts through the academic projects Streamscapes in Germany and Mittelmeerland in the Mediterranean.

Keywords: fluvial environments; citizen science; cartographic representation; narrative mapping.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the students in the Streamscapes project and also all the local residents and experts who generously contributed to the project through interviews, tours and references. The authors would like to thank the students, architects, collaborators, universities, institutions and sponsors of the Mittelmeerland AA Visiting Schools and Stephanie Tunka, who directed the program together with Medine Altiok.

Introduction

In the European context, water management has traditionally been steered by rational measures to control water and ensure that vital services including river and maritime transport, drinking-water supply, and cooling of industrial processes are maintained. Water spaces continue to make an important contribution to national revenues through these activities and have performed a major role within the narrative of industrial modernity.1 But today this narrative is challenged by complex global processes such as climate change and the spread of pollution, which are intricately connected to the complete system of both large and smaller-scale water-spaces. Such processes have wide-ranging effects and elicit broad public concern.

Current tools and planning methods around water are proving themselves inadequate to address the threatening quantitative “unknowns,” the complexity of interactions and to provide workable solutions for the transition to a post-industrial, post-colonial and post-oil society. The EU Water Framework Directive (2000) is aimed at the achievement of “good ecological status” of European waters by 2015, with two further management cycles until the final deadline for meeting objectives in 2027.2 This directive acknowledged the importance of water systems as a “commons”—in terms of ground water, which recognises no legislative borders, in terms of river basins which may cross national borders and also in terms of coastal and estuarine ecosystems vulnerable to the input from river basins. “Water is not a commercial product like any other but, rather, a heritage which must be protected, defended and treated as such.”

While water management is generally carried out at the regional or national administrative level, its effective execution depends on a large group of diverse actors, both professional and civil, hence the directive also recognises the importance of public participation in the updating of management plans (art. 46). An important distinction must be made between the “commons” of water itself, and the jurisdiction of the spaces it is flowing through. This is the property of water space which most clearly distinguishes it from land space and which demands different modes of representation and cartography. Fluidity, temporality and intersecting dynamics are difficult to capture through traditional, Cartesian mapping techniques. We argue that to represent the hidden, fleeting dimensions of water-spaces is to take the first step towards sustainable and integrative planning and management.

At the scale of the sea, Marine Spatial Planning is an example which initially largely omitted to take the marine ecosystem into consideration and is now turning to a loosely-defined “ecosystem-based” management approach.3 Awareness of the immaterial cultural value of water spaces is increasing and the development of methods with which to acknowledge these values is the subject of important research.4

Water heritage is therefore faced with the concurrent challenges of encouraging public involvement in managing a valuable commons and in representing the pluri-dimensional aspects of water history “in the making.” Today’s decisions determine tomorrow’s history and to forge a pathway towards a more balanced approach to water management and governance is to begin with a more balanced input of knowledge.

How can local social and physical knowledge complete an existing technical appraisal of water territories and inform their ongoing transformations?

Historical cartography provides important references with which to imagine ways of addressing this question. Interconnected water spaces of rivers and seas embody long cultural histories and deep sociocultural meanings have developed around them, alongside the formation of towns, ports and trade networks. They have witnessed intense exchange, radical physical transformations, stagnation, crisis and conflict. While layers of physical artefacts bear witness to these events, some histories may also be swept away or submerged.

Maritime cartography was traditionally a tool used by sailors to map the geographical and cultural discoveries of seas, rivers and oceans, including narrative elements—a combination of fact and imagination. Mapping has always influenced the state of knowledge about the world and cannot be separated from scientific knowledge, therefore mapping evolved with the tools of scientific measurement, while the narrative aspects have been largely subsumed by science. However cartographic drawings can be more than techno-scientific representations of borders, mountains and infrastructure; they can interpret, review and comment.5

Fig. 1 Map of Europe and the Mediterranean from the 19th-century copy of the 1375 Catalan Atlas, second chart, first cartography.
Fig. 1 Map of Europe and the Mediterranean from the 19th-century copy of the 1375 Catalan Atlas, second chart, first cartography.

The Catalan Atlas of Europe and the Mediterranean of 1375 [Fig. 1] is Abraham Cresques’ “visual story” of the Mediterranean consisting of a compilation of trade routes, sites of raw materials and resources, dynasties and places, including all major cities along the coastline with only a few inland features. Religious references are illustrated as well as a synthesis of the medieval travel literature of the time; “an overlapping set of information that attempts to convey a broader meaning.”6

Storytelling shapes the spaces we live in by connecting our individual experiences; narratives link socio-cultural conditions to physical spaces. Perceptions and meaning rely on the morphological aspects of a space and the cultural processes behind it, but most importantly they rely on a dynamic network producing social knowledge.7 Within this framework, mapping opens a possibility to graphically represent storytelling by allowing collective production and the visualisation of perceptions.

Through a discussion of the two academic projects Streamscapes and Mittelmeerland, this paper argues that narration and cartography can play a critical role in creating new solution-led paths of knowledge production for the contemporary challenges around water spaces. In particular in finding a balance between urban production and ecological processes; narration in understanding the genealogy of water spaces and cartography in representing multiple relations. In the two case-study projects, the process of participatory narration steers the production of water-knowledge into a public direction—it is therefore a powerful tool to complete and overcome dominant narratives that may serve particular, official or corporate purposes.8 The method of narrative cartography served both to capture the fluvial and temporal dynamics of water spaces and to incorporate local knowledge gained from interviews, hence the search for innovative forms of representation was central to both projects. Narratives enriched the territorial representation by allowing cross- and multiple readings; they visualize the collective imagination of both sites.

The discussion of the two sites presented here enables wider geopolitical questions about the space of the sea to be addressed from two different perspectives; on the one hand, how public involvement with the sea can be encouraged further inland along its tributaries (Streamscapes) and on the other, how the Mediterranean can be imagined, and possibly governed as a unified territory, shaped by the central water body (Mittelmeerland).

The cartographic basis for the two academic projects was first established through scaled, analytical maps using open source GIS data or Google maps. In both cases, these maps were then modified and completed after site-work, during which additional territorial information and observations were gathered in interviews with local experts and communities. While this methodology was common to both cases, the focus of the two projects differs; in Streamscapes, the objective was to articulate and document intangible connections from the rivers Havel and Elbe to the North Sea through collaborative mapping in three regional towns. Based on the hypothesis that the design and management of the (North) sea space requires innovative concepts for greater public involvement, the project examined the network of relations and asked how far the sea penetrates inland according to local experience, and in which ways its presence is felt? Cartographic methods were used both to support communication during the information-gathering process and also as a means of presenting the results, however the project’s main focus was the collection and documentation of local narratives.

At a larger scale, Mittelmeerland explores the future of the Mediterranean Sea as a territory of water through six distinct Mediterranean metropolises: Dubrovnik, Tangier, Beirut, Algiers, Alexandria and Izmir. The project focuses on finding innovative representation techniques that “poetically” illustrate a territory in transformation, mapping fluid and narrative aspects and using historical maps as a source of inspiration. Narrative representations were able to complete knowledge about the fluvial properties of this space and address conflicting entities through new perspectives and proposals.

The first part of this paper reviews and assesses the potential contribution of narratives in the contemporary production of space, and why current theory in the spatial disciplines is paying closer attention to this method of sourcing local and pluralistic knowledge. Part two draws on fieldwork in the Streamscapes project in Northern Germany to demonstrate how narratives were able to capture relations; in both natural daily or seasonal cycles and cultural (political/industrial) development cycles. Part three discusses the power of narrative mapping to analyze and visualize the dynamics of the Mediterranean’s urban coastline including the collective memory, the mutual dependencies of land and water, the construction of new ports, which are often in conflict with sensitive sea ground and the transformation of society.

PART I: Narrative mapping and planning; the social background

Waterways are liquid libraries. They are the oldest systems of transport, exchange and sites of settlement hence they are vessels of stored knowledge. Water management is a type of rationality deeply embedded in the territory9 and around which social, political and technological forces converge. Historical legacies are embedded in the water systems and their extended spaces of reference—partly visible in the construction of banks, bridges, locks and harbours, but also partly concealed from view and always transforming; “the entire river space exists in a constantly advancing, continuous process of change.”10

According to urban researchers Brook and Dunn,11 mapping is a critical instrument to understand the individual essences of space, place and networks. Hence, maps and narration have deepened the understanding of territories and completed technical maps of these territories with local knowledge. Narration therefore plays a critical role in understanding the genealogy of water spaces and civic participation steers the story towards greater public involvement. The concept of water resilience, for example, suggests a widespread holistic and multi-scale vision, proposing a nexus of thinking between water resources, the local built environment and the territorial scale. Water resilience calls for a conceptualization of plural spheres, acting both at ecological and socio-cultural levels and triggering a new type of dynamic understanding of water spaces. In water-sensitive urban design for adaptation and mitigation measures in climate-proof urban development, water resilience also means a shift in the relative importance of technical knowledge in favor of locally-produced knowledge.12

In order to exploit available potential and to support “on the ground” municipal development, the process of acquiring local knowledge requires committed people and good communication between local actors and impulse generators. Traditional planning instruments, such as master plans or urban redevelopment measures, are becoming less and less suitable for resilient forms of development due to the lack of holistic process approaches which incorporate the participation of different actors and their knowledge of the local environment.13 An important legal precedent in this area was achieved by the New Zealand Maori in the recognition of a river as a living being. This in turn opened the door for many indigenous groups with similar worldviews.14

Citizen Science: direct participation and self-empowerment of civil society

The difficulty to predict urban developments in many cities and regions provides the impetus for a change of perspective on developmental governance. New forms of governing and organizing commons are playing an important role in urban debates15 and broader sections of civil society are being activated to participate in questions of urban policy and development. The fundamental idea of ​​the Commons is central to these debates.16 A field of experimentation for the emergence and testing of new forms of cooperation has opened, supported by new legal regulations between the state, civil society and private-sector actors.17 Here, the assumption is made that inclusive development is not possible without the incorporation of different types of citizen’s knowledge and the trust in the respective ability of “other” members of civil society to act responsibly.

The drive for “Citizen science,” which has been adopted by the German Ministry of Education and Research’s “Science Year,” aims for the common creation of knowledge. The participation of citizens in urban transformation processes and knowledge creation is formulated as a key-task for the future in this research and innovation agenda.18 A civil society active in building up momentum for science and knowledge creation, in particular through successful networking and cooperation between different groups of actors, is recognized as being vital component to this process. Citizen Science was therefore particularly relevant for the German “Science Year of the Seas and Oceans”—a topic within which a large rift between scientists and the public has developed.19 Coping with the sociospatial transformation of water spaces requires not only interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary cooperation of experts from science, municipalities and industry, but also dialogue with citizens in the entire transformation process, from the problem definition to the final project.20 These approaches aim to transfer and develop experience and knowledge which is accessible to as broad a section of society as possible. If large parts of society are considered passive consumers of knowledge, then it is unlikely that the knowledge generated will be suitable for society and its needs. This is the way in which science is called upon to produce insights and results for the development of a relevant and worthwhile future that fits the needs of the majority of citizens.

Co-creation of knowledge

The combination of methods from design, social sciences and spatial planning pursues a new interdisciplinary approach that opens up space for experimentation.21 Design is closely linked to the task of creating knowledge that provides information about what should be (Deontic questions). In the context of design methods, it is crucial that "co-creation" is understood not as "design for user" or "design with user" but as "design by user."22 In many projects across the globe, co-creation uses mapping as a method of representing and communicating important spatial issues, for example the community mapping lab in the US23 or Iconoclasitas in Argentina and Mexico24 Projects such as those undertaken by the “Counter Cartography Collective” formed by cultural studies students and activists at the University of North Carolina, focus on social relations—“the interplay between facts and perception.” They produce maps of specific realities which do not appear through official channels, yet capture the critical political dimensions of space.25 The combination of participation and design in co-creation processes offers a high potential for the generation of accepted innovations26 and represents a promising basis for designing demand-oriented regional development scenarios. The chosen design-related, participative approach described in the following case-studies thus offers ways of representing both tangible and intangible aspects of complex water-spaces, which can then suggest directions for regional development.

PART II: Streamscapes—from the Spree to the Sea—a cartographic experiment

The project “Streamscapes—from the Spree to the Sea—a cartographic experiment,”27 began with the hypothesis that important social relations around water may not be captured by technical or statistical data. In particular, how individuals “sense the sea” through their local waterways, was a subject about which little existing research could be found. The exploration under discussion in this section was interested not in producing a piece of historical research, or a chronological reconstruction of events around the waterways, but how experiences are perceived by local inhabitants through the way a story is told. Hence capturing narratives was a key objective. The three sites of local fieldwork are diverse, but together they enabled us to collate a geographically-specific configuration of dynamic social relations to the sea as mediated by the space of the river.

Within the framework of German Science Year 2016*17 “Seas and Oceans,”28 the content and methodology of this project drew the thematic of the Sea back into the German hinterland and focused on how connections and relations are understood and experienced today. In contrast to the northern Baltic coastal metropolitan centers of Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallinn, Helsinki and St. Petersburg, after the fall of the Hanseatic League in 1534, the southern Baltic countries of Germany, Poland and Lithuania orientated their capitals inland on the river.29 The German coastlines to the North and Baltic Seas are relatively sparsely populated, with the coastal region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern having the lowest income in Germany.30 To what extent do these demographic conditions contribute to widening the psychological distance and diluting a sense of civic responsibility for the state of the German North Sea—a “commons” of 28,600 km2 and combined with the German Baltic Sea, an area equal to 10% of the land area?

The investigation chose three sites along the geographically most direct waterway from Berlin to the North Sea in a north-westerly direction from the Spree to the Havel river, the Elbe river and the North Sea. The towns of Garz on the Havel (pop 150), Geesthacht on the Elbe (pop 3000) and Brunsbüttel (pop 13,000) on the Elbe/North-Baltic-Sea-Canal, are each the site of one of the many locks or weirs along this route which testify to the technical and economical project of German river transport. During fieldwork in summer 2017, the study group made direct contact with around 450 citizens in these towns, carried out interviews and gathered information through mapping. [Fig. 2]

Fig. 2 Area of investigation, (northern Germany), Streamscapes project. The map shows a diagonal transect traced in a North-West direction between Berlin and the North Sea, which describes the area of investigation following the flow of three connecting rivers; the Spree, the Havel and the Elbe. The three towns of Garz (on the Havel river), Geesthacht (on the Elbe river) and Brunsbüttel on the North-Baltic-Sea canal, are the sites of three chosen locks where interviews and collective mappings were carried out. The map also shows four segments with different characteristics along this sequence; the Spree and the Havel close to Berlin, which are connected to lakes and renaturalised areas, the non-tidal Elbe river from Geesthacht to the Havel inflow, the downstream Elbe including Hamburg and important shipping functions, and the mouth of the Elbe into the North Sea.
Fig. 2 Area of investigation, (northern Germany), Streamscapes project. The map shows a diagonal transect traced in a North-West direction between Berlin and the North Sea, which describes the area of investigation following the flow of three connecting rivers; the Spree, the Havel and the Elbe. The three towns of Garz (on the Havel river), Geesthacht (on the Elbe river) and Brunsbüttel on the North-Baltic-Sea canal, are the sites of three chosen locks where interviews and collective mappings were carried out. The map also shows four segments with different characteristics along this sequence; the Spree and the Havel close to Berlin, which are connected to lakes and renaturalised areas, the non-tidal Elbe river from Geesthacht to the Havel inflow, the downstream Elbe including Hamburg and important shipping functions, and the mouth of the Elbe into the North Sea.

Border relations

While this most direct water route from Berlin to the North Sea had enjoyed marked importance, with towns such as Garz building ports and quays, narratives were able to reconstruct a picture of the complexity of border relations which developed around the political division of Germany and which severed local connections to the sea. While flowing through all borders, the water system was physically and psychologically rerouted through political constructions that determined interrelations between citizens, their rivers and seas. Locals described the economic and demographic decline they experienced as the route from Berlin to the North Sea through the Havel was strategically bypassed. Over 156 river kilometers of this route flowed through the German Democratic Republic (GDR-East Germany). A parallel West-German river route—the Elbe side-canal (1976)31 then became the busiest waterway. Seamen based in Garz who had sailed both oceanic and inland water-routes carrying coal, grain and other goods through Poland, Czech Republic and from the ports of Rostock and Hamburg as far as Australia, now worked locally as tradesmen. Rather than the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, accessible through the GDR, was the local maritime reference and the place for family holidays.

Specific sections of these rivers previously functioned as national borders. Aligned along the river’s center-line, stories described how it was possible to paddle up the river on the GDR side, but not cross. Inter-state borders are now still frequently marked by the river, but tributaries from different states comprise a shared river system, bringing material results of conflicting policies, such as polluting fertilizers, downstream. Neighboring towns across the river sharing responsibility for the same ecological system, described how they are subject to differing legislative systems and are distanced by administration.

Historians are well aware of the selective nature of history-writing and how certain meta-narratives gather momentum and dominate their historical period. The effects of border construction on interactions along the river is a story with important implications, but as many experiences from the ex-GDR, has already become fainter and more difficult to hear.

River cycles of production and ecology

The economic importance of the river system for industrial production and transport was transmitted by local people—increasing as we moved downstream into the main transport routes, but the ecological space of the river is understood as a much broader, dynamic system of dykes, floodable areas, cycle paths, flora and fauna as well as bird, fish and animal life. In particular these aspects of the river system are keenly observed by local citizens. Hence making space for a frequently flooding river is an unspoken public contract. At such times, it is only through the assistance of the local community that flood events can be bought under control. Both in Geesthacht and Garz, the 100-year floods of 2013 have left a marked impression—the community in Garz were given 8 hours to build a dyke in order to avoid the environmental catastrophe of a flooded bio-gas plant.

Changes in the ecological balance are immediately sensed by citizens, who reported how, through reduction in river-side industry, “renaturalization” has taken place, encouraging rare wild species such as the wolf to return to some areas, and increasing the frequency of the previously endangered species such as the White-tailed eagle. But locals in the wetlands around Garz have also noticed climate change through increased dryness—less mosquitos, therefore less frogs and less food for the visiting stork population which rests and breeds in the region from March to August before the winter migration to Africa. Citizens cherish their annual stork visits and each village has a “stork-father,” who records and monitors their movements.

The river system is part of, and intersected by, global migration paths. Construction works along the river for the benefit of transport, have made it difficult for fish to move through the system from the sea to fresh water and vice-versa. Fishermen upstream notice the effect of Geesthacht’s weir, built in 1960. Despite the installation of Europe’s largest fish ramp in 2010, financed by the energy company Vattenfall as ecological compensation for the coal-fired power-station Moorburg by Hamburg, fishermen on the Havel explain how the numbers and variety of fish species that make it through has been drastically reduced and the ecology of the river system transformed. The eel is one example—a fish which migrates annually from the Sargasso Sea to the Elbe, and previously as far upstream as Garz. Vattenfall boasts about the success of the initiative, but local environmentalists criticize the large numbers of fish from the Elbe taken in with the river-water used for cooling the power plant and the resulting rise in temperature of water re-released into the Elbe.

The tangible experience of these cycles is important for local inhabitants. These stories demonstrate how citizen’s narratives about the river and relations to the sea are able to effortlessly capture and integrate the dynamic global cycles of the water system. [Fig. 3]

Fig. 3 Global changes—local influences in fishing. This map describes four regional changes which can be traced back to global causes: 1. Man-made obstacles (in the form of locks, weirs) and the decline of the local eel population; the eel was once plentiful in the Havel, says fisherman Schröder in Strodehne, but since the rivers were altered for navigation with channels and locks, significantly fewer eels now make their way upstream. 2. Changes in the Gulf Stream have a direct impact on local waters; eels spawning in the Sargasso Sea “ride” the Gulf Stream in order to reach Europe, therefore due to these changes, eels are arriving in fewer numbers. 3. Changed production chains; according to the fish vendor in Brunsbüttel, the recent decline of the cod supply is linked to a fire in the port of Fredericia in Denmark. The resulting release of nitrate from the fire extinction damaged the cod stock—a fact that is now reflected directly over his counter. 4. Tourism; increasing international tourism is changing consumer habits—exotic fish species including sea bream and squid, are in demand. The Chinese mitten-crab was introduced to the Baltic Sea via commercial vessels at the beginning of the 20th century and despite locks and other obstacles, the crab has made it over the Elbe and into the Havel. Garz fishermen then export them back to China!
Fig. 3 Global changes—local influences in fishing. This map describes four regional changes which can be traced back to global causes:
1. Man-made obstacles (in the form of locks, weirs) and the decline of the local eel population; the eel was once plentiful in the Havel, says fisherman Schröder in Strodehne, but since the rivers were altered for navigation with channels and locks, significantly fewer eels now make their way upstream.
2. Changes in the Gulf Stream have a direct impact on local waters; eels spawning in the Sargasso Sea “ride” the Gulf Stream in order to reach Europe, therefore due to these changes, eels are arriving in fewer numbers.
3. Changed production chains; according to the fish vendor in Brunsbüttel, the recent decline of the cod supply is linked to a fire in the port of Fredericia in Denmark. The resulting release of nitrate from the fire extinction damaged the cod stock—a fact that is now reflected directly over his counter.
4. Tourism; increasing international tourism is changing consumer habits—exotic fish species including sea bream and squid, are in demand. The Chinese mitten-crab was introduced to the Baltic Sea via commercial vessels at the beginning of the 20th century and despite locks and other obstacles, the crab has made it over the Elbe and into the Havel. Garz fishermen then export them back to China!

The narratives move between scales, bringing cycles of time and place together in particular events and capturing the rhythm and elasticity of relations, hence the narrative map avoids contradictions of scale implicit to a Cartesian map. Both natural daily or seasonal cycles and cultural (political/industrial) development cycles are expressed and understood as being intimately interwoven, reaching far beyond Germany and the North Sea.

Intangible Qualities

The resounding appreciation of the river spaces as representing natural cycles was common to people in all three places. The tide is felt in the Elbe as far as Geesthacht (174 river km from the North Sea), where the weir prevents it from being felt further upstream. For participants in our project, the tide has multiple associations, including the uncontrollable force of nature. This implicit understanding was recorded in a “verbal map” where the river space is occupied by associations [Fig. 4].

Fig. 4 Local residents described their associations with the tide, which are translated spatially inside the map. Towards the North Sea, the tide is associated with unique beauty of the Wadden Sea (Wattenmeer ist schoen, Wattlaufen), children collecting shells (Kinder sammeln Muschen), holidays and relaxation (Urlaub, Entspannung) the retreat of the water (Nordsee kein Wasser), experiencing nature and its force (Naturgewalt, Naturgefühl), flooding during storms (Hochwasser bei Sturm) and a feeling of freedom (Freiheit). Upstream, along the Elbe, the tide arouses feelings of home and belonging, (Heimat) of being overwhelmed (überwaeltiges Gefühl), of the danger of the unknown tidal movements (vorsicht) and directly feeling life itself (Leben). Observations about the cyclic exposure of beaches and the many life-forms along the Elbe are also recorded. Further upstream the tide means a new start (Neuanfang), is dynamic and associated with the moon but the change can also be striking (frappierend).
Fig. 4 Local residents described their associations with the tide, which are translated spatially inside the map. Towards the North Sea, the tide is associated with unique beauty of the Wadden Sea (Wattenmeer ist schoen, Wattlaufen), children collecting shells (Kinder sammeln Muschen), holidays and relaxation (Urlaub, Entspannung) the retreat of the water (Nordsee kein Wasser), experiencing nature and its force (Naturgewalt, Naturgefühl), flooding during storms (Hochwasser bei Sturm) and a feeling of freedom (Freiheit). Upstream, along the Elbe, the tide arouses feelings of home and belonging, (Heimat) of being overwhelmed (überwaeltiges Gefühl), of the danger of the unknown tidal movements (vorsicht) and directly feeling life itself (Leben). Observations about the cyclic exposure of beaches and the many life-forms along the Elbe are also recorded. Further upstream the tide means a new start (Neuanfang), is dynamic and associated with the moon but the change can also be striking (frappierend).

The sounds, colors, light, movement, space and atmosphere of the river create a direct emotional connection to the sea and trigger memories of certain experiences and events. This connection is affirmed by citizens to be of great value, standing for a fundamental quality of life. Over the “Streamscapes” we investigated, strong feelings of identity associated with the water emerged—identities which may not be site-specific but contribute to an expanded sense of belonging around the water and which are able to connect different sites and events of one’s own personal history [Fig. 5]. Narratives confirm that the water systems are highly prized socio-cultural spaces contributing to a tangible effect of personal and collective well-being.

Fig. 5 Identificationscapes. On the basis of the interviewee’s statements, a geography of associations can be identified which reveal different relationships along the rivers. Identities around Garz on the Havel are linked to the cultural landscape, to the potential risk of flooding from the Elbe but clearly to the Baltic Sea rather than the North Sea. The influence of the North Sea, on the other hand, reaches as far as Geesthacht. Further important factors are the pirating history around Brunsbüttel, ship-spotting at the North-Baltic Sea canal and the characteristic wind-turbines towards the coast.
Fig. 5 Identificationscapes. On the basis of the interviewee’s statements, a geography of associations can be identified which reveal different relationships along the rivers. Identities around Garz on the Havel are linked to the cultural landscape, to the potential risk of flooding from the Elbe but clearly to the Baltic Sea rather than the North Sea. The influence of the North Sea, on the other hand, reaches as far as Geesthacht. Further important factors are the pirating history around Brunsbüttel, ship-spotting at the North-Baltic Sea canal and the characteristic wind-turbines towards the coast.

Implications for design

The Streamscapes investigation led to the formation of specific forms of knowledge about the region and its connection to the sea which would not otherwise be apparent from a technical analysis. Most citizens are closely linked to their river spaces, physically and emotionally, understand and observe its transformations and consider the environment of high qualitative value. Narratives tell the story of the fragmentation and division of the ecological system in the name of improved transport efficiency, which has led to increased separation and withdrawal from the sea.

Narrative cartography represents territory according to alternative knowledge sources and categories, which can serve as a basis for innovative planning processes. In the Streamscapes project the spatial reference system which emerged, is represented by the watershed—an ecological definition [Fig. 6]. How would decision-making processes be steered if the water territory was a federal “eco-state” and if citizens participated in the same level of decision-making as the national bodies of interest? It was through the process of constructing narrative cartographies, that the tangible logic and the physical outline of the Spree-Havel-Elbe ecoregion emerged as a possible future project.

This approach is closely aligned to the Bioregionalism school of thought, which considers territory itself is a common good—a good which has been transformed dramatically through globalization and the dominant “political economy.”32 Bioregionalism therefore also calls for local involvement. Our study revealed that old borders are long-lasting and deeply inscribed. The concept of a large-scale eco-territory based on the watershed, does not compete with local cultural traditions, but just as historical administrative units such as duchies, kingdoms and states reflect the concerns and power-structures of their time, so can ecoregions serve to reflect the ecological territorial concerns of our present century.