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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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1 The RESPECT period


No man made the land: it is the inheritance of the whole species.

[John Stuart Mill, 1965]

Ancient river civilisations were largely farming cultures, thus, the settlement was developed in accordance with irrigational river functions. High stages of river waters made it possible to water and enrich cultivated fields but they also threatened with floods. The settlement zones balanced on the line of high water stages which was determined by centuries-old experiences. The fertile areas by the river banks were used for crops while the solid buildings tended to be located above the flood plain terrains.

Water abundance and river alluvium provided excellent crops. In the subtropical desert climate of Egypt or Mesopotamia vegetation conditions deteriorated along with the growing distance from the river valleys, therefore, the agriculture was based on vast irrigation systems, whose best known examples were constructed in Egypt. The rising Nile could deeply penetrate the cultivated fields owing to the irrigation canal systems while the application of simple bulkheads and tools for drawing water, such as Archimedes’ screw9, made it possible to distribute it to the higher located areas. The regularity of the overflows and the competence in measuring their level allowed to precisely predict the amount of the crops which gave the Egyptian clergy a tool of political power.10

River valleys and estuaries were particularly susceptible to floods. Already at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC in Egypt, the first canals and storage reservoirs11 were built...

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