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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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2 The CONQUEST period


The "control of nature" is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man. The concepts and practices of applied entomology for the most part date from that Stone Age of science.

[Rachel Carson 1962]

The conquest period was gradually developing along with losing respect for the power of water element. In the Middle Ages water flowed from the pedestal of an idol to the role of valuable but obstructive matter. Popularisation of the Christian religion led to disappearance of “pagan” beliefs in the rivers sanctity. The conviction, based on the Biblical words, that the man (male!) is “the king of all creation”, while the whole earth with all its resources was given to him to be subdued63, justified predatory exploitation of the resources and absolute subordination of the nature to human needs.

At the turn of the 15th century, Europeans faced “big water” barrier when entering the era of oceanic civilisation and colonisation; while in the periods of Renaissance and Baroque “small water” became a material for constructing vast fortification complexes and sophisticated garden arrangements. Broadening the hydrological64, hydrographical and nautical knowledge, as well as the development of boatbuilding, shipping and hydraulic works, made water an enemy which could be dominated. Technical progress gradually reduced previous ←47 | 48→limitations concerning the use of water sources65 and raised the confidence that controlling the water element is only...

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