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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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4 Responsible cities – vital rivers


The consequences of our actions appear sooner

than we manage to escape.

[Jacques Deval]

The analysis of the stages of conquest and return to rivers in the history of urban development reveals that fundamental changes took place only under the influence of very strong pressure factors or economic, spatial or social barriers251 e.g. economic collapse, water or space deficit, epidemiological threats, high flood risk level or social unrest. Water problems increase with time. Solutions to current inconveniences (e.g. sewerage of polluted rivers or sealing of city surfaces) caused much more serious problems for the next generations. Urbanisation of an increasing number of areas caused changes in water cycle conditions in catchment areas and hydrological regime of urban watercourses. Water problems flow downstream, so many cities, especially located in upper river course, did not experience the consequences of basins and valleys transformations.

The cities located by river estuaries, like London and Rotterdam, were most prone to the consequences of floods and pollution therefore I chose them to illustrate the problems as well as the stages and methods of creating integrated water management. The restoration of water purity and biological vitality of the Rhine, the Meuse or the Thames has not been fully accomplished but the scale of water problems has forced changes in water and space management in regions and particular cities. In both cities the post-industrial riparian terrains had to be transformed and both of them have had to face the consequences...

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