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River-Friendly Cities

An Outline of Historical Changes in Relations between Cities and Rivers and Contemporary Water-Responsible Urbanization Strategies

Anna Januchta-Szostak

The history of urbanization was inseparably connected with the exploitation of the environment and the subjugation of rivers. Today we experience the effects of this expansion in the form of escalating water problems. The book outlines the processes of transformation of anthropogenic, natural and waterborne structures in urban environment, which were presented in three historical phases: the period of Respect, Conquest and Return. River-friendly cities require integrated water management in entire catchments from the source to the recipient. The key to the success of the Return strategy is the recovery of space for greenery and water, responsible spatial planning, circular economy and rainwater management as well as continuous raising of awareness of the whole society.

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Don’t divorce the river from its basin.

[H.B.N. Hynes, 1970]

Can a city befriend its river? Friendship is a cordial relation based on mutual kindness, trust and respect. Talking about friendship is feasible if it concerns at least two parties which respect each other’s personalities. Cities, being human communities, are treated as entities in legal and economic terms whereas rivers lost their identity a long time ago. Urbanisation history has been a process of struggling with the nature whereas the level of technological subjugation of the element was an indicator of civilisation progress for centuries. Considering the scale of transformations of hydrographical structures in urbanised areas, the metaphor of “a river-friendly city” may seem to be an oxymoron like “urban planning for Gypsies”1.

Relations between a city and its river tend to be judged “by the cover” i.e. by the quality of  waterfronts. The cities which face their rivers, exposing the facades and bustling boulevards, attracting with the river bank lines, seem friendly and open towards the water. Entirely different impression is given by the areas turning their backs to the watercourses or being threatened by water therefore hidden behind embankments which protect them from the destructive power of the element. It is only one side of the picture, though. The other one is the rivers threatened by cities. Canalised, separated from their catchment areas, deprived of biocoenosis, contaminated, dead… What are the reasons behind the degradation of city watercourses? What processes made...

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