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Urbanists meeting: 28 June 2017

previous Water Institute of South Africa (WISA) panel discussed how to unlock water resources. This event was very infrastructural, and missed the role of how we shape the city. We have a problem with awareness: Water is hidden, it is piped, drained, invisible infrastructure. Can we work with public open space, blue-green infrastructure, detention ponds, even buildings themselves to change this perception? If so, how do we integrate urbanists and engineers?

To address this, a group of urbanists met informally on the 28th of June, with the outcome of, among other things, a follow on WISA panel discussion event, preliminary planned for 5 September 2017.

The interests of the attendees ranged from a general interest in water sensitive design, a concern in the gap between design, planning and implementation, to specific concerns about the spatialising of water, how to get integrated infrastructures, constructed urban ecologies, how to integrate wetlands better into the urban environment to achieve improved environmental resilience. The attendees represented academic, industry and government interests, but one recurring concern was how to spread the interaction to include more people, how to connect spaces.

It was apparent early on that there was a need to acknowledge that different disciplines have different value systems which need to be unearthed so we don’t speak over each other. Some methodologies to achieve this was discussed, but it was also acknowledged that the ‘engineers archetype' may get impatient with this approach. Thus, there needs to be a way to 'hook' these archetypes and maintain their interest until they see the value of the approach. In short, explore creating the link between values and specific actions or visible outcomes to visualise the progress made.

The attendees moved towards specific things they would like to see happen, and it became apparent that there are different scales at play. An example was stormwater harvesting, that this could be done at multiple levels, but that studies have found larger scales were more viable. Further discussion then moved to the lack of implementation, which made one participant remark that it may be easier to galvanise civil society at neighbourhood level.

From this the conversation moved to who has the agency to create the change, and the onus seem to rest on planners and landscape architects. Some comments on the scope of the challenge:

  • Professionals don’t know how to evaluate plans. There is a big gap!
  • We’re not seeing the priority of WSD pushed through to implementation!
  • There are no guidelines for long term economic value in treasury
  • You can’t only look at the hydrology! Linear cities working in complex systems. Need to make sure the right comments are made.
  • We’re trying to find ways that the input is made (for e.g. WSD, conventional water supply). It’s the silo’s but also how the jobs are done. The person responsible for that is generally a planner.
  • Planners don’t understand their role.
  • But the landscape architects are the people who put ALL the layers together and making it work. Planners often have a very narrow defined view.
  • Planners also get things pushed on them.
  • There are planners at different scales, they get conflated.

While this spirited conversation was informative it did not lead to a clear way forward, and the conversation then moved to where the power lies.

What is the political nature of water? We cannot just ram through this idea of ‘WSD is better’. We need to speak to power and engage with power, so where is that?

It was acknowledged that bulk water sales traditionally had this power, but with the increased uncertainty that the 'water will be supplied' through the pipes and taps, this power is becoming less certain.

We need to make sure we have a similar foundation knowledge - and this foundation knowledge may change with moving towards WSD.

From here the conversation moved towards Future Water's role as a convening space, which included sharing resources to build greater interdisciplinary interest, while noting the need to move wider than academic conferences:

  • SA Property Owners Association Conference: Get the people who are paying for the work to know what they are asking for.
  • Go after the grouping of clients. E.g. alternative ways for development to get water. The stormwater policy is good, but it does not get implemented. So who are we talking to, can they be brought together?
  • Have a look at how Green Building became a thing (e.g. in Australia) - Jason Mingo’s role. E.g. how they have been doing this in the Bergriver catchment.
  • The need for a dedicated engagement person for Future Water - growing Future Water is a full time job!

Q: Are there planning conferences where this is a big focus? A: Not yet, but becoming more of a focus.

  • There is SAPI conference (SA Planning Institute), every two years. At the 2016 there was only one on water spatialising. Big push for 2018 one, call for papers going out soon. Links to SDGs. Resilience, climate adaptation…
  • Young Urbanists - partner with WISA (particularly the Young Water Professionals (YWP), build a water sensitive conversation
  • International Water Association Young Water Professionals (IWA YWP) conference, hosted in Cape Town, December 2017.
  • The second international peri-urban conference hosted in Cape Town 26 - 29 November 2017 (call for abstracts have been extended)
  • The Institute for Landscape Architecture in South Africa (ILASA) - good place to send notices of conferences (next year conference, in Cape Town). A good opportunity to get more interdisciplinary interaction.

Enquiries: FutureWater@uct.ac.za