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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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In contrast to the Western, utilitarian view of a river as

a resource to be exploited by humans, the communities claim

distinct relationships with the river based on guardianship, symbiosis and respect, in which the rivers have an intrinsic right to exist. That is the core-concept of bio-cultural rights.

[Erin O’Donnell 2018]

Can relations between cities and rivers return to friendship? Are we ready to notice and respect the rights of rivers, accepting the fact that they constitute living structures to the same degree as our cities?

The book was inspired by the report on the Whanganui River (2017), saint river of the Maori people - native inhabitants of New Zealand, which gained the status of a legal personality on the basis of the New Zealand Parliament act (15th March 2017)304. It has been the first but not the only case in modern history when a river was acknowledged as a “living being” and has rights and human representatives protecting its interests. The same year the Ganges and the Jamuna rivers, sacred to Indian inhabitants, were provided with special protection by the Nainital court in the northern state of Uttarakhand, which granted them the status of “living beings” and legal personalities305. In 2017 the Constitutional Court of Colombia also granted a status of a legal personality to the Rio Atrato river on the basis of eco-centric approach and the theory of bio-cultural rights (O’Donnell 2018)306.


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