Cities under rapid urbanization face a range of pressures including unplanned growth and unmet needs and demands for basic services, as well as increased water consumption, waste generation and water discharge. Also developed cities face pressures of dysfunctional layout or poorly performing infrastructure. Such pressures offer opportunities for innovative solutions encompassing the productive reuse of water, nutrients, organic matter and energy, and the multi-purposing of land-use and infrastructures.
The seminar on “Water for sustainable and inclusive cities: how to induce change?” showcased several examples of how the urban landscape had been repurposed in a way to meet demands of citizens while at the same time providing benefits like reduced flooding, and making use of “waste” or “overflow” waters in ways that makes cities more liveable.
The findings showed the importance of being “demand-driven” and responding to the needs and aspirations of the full range of stakeholders. Solutions also need to be economically and financially viable: If resource recovery is to be taken seriously, there must be a greater understanding of the potential utilization of end products, and how they fit into a viable business. Business model thinking can facilitate this process.
Communications is vital: the water sector needs to work more with digital and social media and learn to use these media to create the change that is desperately needed in the urban. Whereas public awareness needs to be raised regarding prudent use of water and different infrastructure solutions, there may also be a need for water managers to more dynamically respond to citizens’ concerns or fears of water shortages and climate change.
Change is at times driven by crises – when water systems experience shock, there can be a small window of opportunity to enact change. This must indeed be aggressively embraced to transition to a more sustainable future. At the same time, with most of the urban infrastructure yet to be built, there is a huge opportunity to qualitatively improve and guide the huge investments that go into urban construction and infrastructure development every day.
Opportunities for a more sustainable future are commonly within reach, and even known to most actors. Unfortunately, institutional silos may limit solutions to the boundaries of pre-defined mandates rather than to address the greater picture. There is a need for a new urban water paradigm: where all components of the urban water system are viewed collectively; rethinking the way water is used and reused; and where waste is treated as valuable resource.
Critical elements for inducing change towards greater sustainability, as suggested by the policy panel, emerged as Political Will & Vision; Leadership; Collaboration; Communication; Public Awareness; Education; Information; and Transparency. These areas of action are the challenges at hand for water agencies, along with urban and national authorities, businesses and citizens. Indeed, the three-session seminar showed breakthroughs when and where the different actors planned and acted together: where city administrations and citizen stakeholders manage to communicate and jointly re-craft the use of the urban space.