Cities have a profound effect on the water cycle, requiring clean water to be imported over large distances, producing wastewater that needs treatment, and altering the run-off characteristics of large areas covered with impermeable surfaces, such as roads, car parks and houses. The key to all future living and development is the effective management of the quantity and quality of our water resources. Urban water management brings new challenges to both water resource managers and environmental scientists.
The proposed re-introduction of Cape Town's natural dual water system, would simply mean assisting the ecological reclamation of the city: By re-introducing the socio-ecological link it provides for a pedestrian structure for the city and reflects our collective cultural landscape - not only in the form of the historical systems, but that these can now structure and function throughout the city. This provides a myriad of opportunity for education and recreation, whilst allowing for a sustainable water management in the city.
The concept is to transform the natural dual water system and its infrastructure, so as to create a powerful civic infrastructure that engages citizens in ways that conventional infrastructure is unable to do. By creating a public landscape that is physically accessible, expressive of civic ideals and a place where the public can gather. Thus it becomes a progressive water system that is an effective mechanism for building the city’s civic life and also a compelling strategy where water is renewed and falls abundantly throughout the city, before finally being used to water the city’s green spaces.
WHAT IS CIVIC HYDROLOGY? Water is life, without it there is no life. Think of water as a living system, in operation throughout the temporal and spatial development of the city – as a single continuum of hydrology, bio-diversity, technology and topography. Consider civic hydrology, water as a civic infrastructure that reflects the man-made landscape (our cultural landscape). At the same time, benefitting the environment, and providing the necessary ecological link from mountain to ocean.
As described in Arcade, Volume 19.1, Fall 2000 : Civic Hydrology, by Katherine Rinne: HYDROSCAPE / CITYSCAPE:23–26; Victoria Reed: IDEAS FROM AND FOR CITIES ON WATER: 26-28; and Kathy Poole: CIVIC HYDROLOGY: 28-32: By maintaining the connectivity of the hydrological network, citizens (and travelers) are offered the opportunity to form clear cognitive maps that reinforces their understanding of the city’s topography, hydrology, range of eco-systems and relationships to the larger environment of surrounding Water bodies. Citizens can better understand how city utilities function, how the parts of the city fit together as a civic body shared by all residents, and their own places in reflection to the territory of the city.
Precedent of this concept of civic hydrology has been applied globally and is implemented in such a way as to reflect the regional contexts; adhere to specific water treatment, use and accessibility, and which provide all sorts of civic benefits.
The lesson is that by co-joining natural and built infrastructures into one framework the dichotomy of the two is blurred, and thus becomes "greenfrastructure". And by reconsidering municipal works’ value as public landscape, new and expanded opportunities for civic expression and education are found.
In order to explain the concept of civic hydrology – let us look at some precedent examples of this that exist in other parts of the world, as described by the above references:
ROME AND THE ROMAN FOUNTAIN, Italy.
Rome is one of the few cities in the world with a dual water system – one that has been in existence for 2800 years. An extra-ordinary benediction of water splashing in hundreds of fountains around the city. Rhapsodized by poets, tourists and artists, these fountains are essential to the identity of the city and are part of the everyday environment of its citizens. What others see as an astounding luxury or extravagance, Romans see as a right of citizenship. Roman history of water management and water law, which have always fostered wide public use, illustrate the Roman justification of what appears to be a profligate disregard for water resources. Water is supplied chiefly by aqueducts, the city retains its best water (from springs in the Apenine Mountains) for drinking, and uses second–class water (from the volcanic Bracciano Lake) for industrial and non-potable uses, including fountain displays. Additionally, the water flowing into the city rarely serves only one purpose before flushing the sewers. Continuously overflowing water from public fountains is redirected through gravity to other non-potable fountains or used to irrigate public gardens.
One can find a wonderful interactive website that defines the 2800year old history of civic hydrology in Rome "A topographical and archival study of that city's hydrological and hydraulic history - THE WATERS OF THE CITY OF ROME."
SEWAGE PARK, by Betsy Damon – Chengdu, China.
This project is a first step in regional water quality remediation. Chengdu is a city of 9million people, and this 5,9 acre public park, located on the Fu and Nan rivers, is a fully functioning water treatment plant with multifold environmental, recreational and cultural uses. The park processes 66,000 gallons of polluted river water each day - not enough to impact on the river as a whole. More important is its role in teaching the public how humans impact the earth and how we can help nature heal – this occurs while children play and families enjoy birds and butterflies that have returned to the once dead riverbank. One can see this project here and here.
STORMWATER GARDEN - A water pollution control laboratory, by Robert Murase - Portland, WA, USA.
In this project the process of water treatment is revealed through the design. The garden profoundly increases our awareness of the poetics of rain and allows the public to see how water cleans itself. This is it does through beauty, the storm water garden incorporates elegant scuppers (rather than downpipes connected to underground stormwater conduits) to direct rainwater into swales that naturally filter water before returning it to the river. The project profoundly increases awareness of the hydrological system and allows the public the experience the cleaning process. One can see this project here and here.
CIVIC HYDROLOGY IN BELLEVUE, WA, U.S.A
In Bellevue, the city has transformed its stormwater infrastructure to create a powerful civic infrastructure that engages its citizens in ways that conventional infrastructure is unable to do. By creating a system of public landscapes, meaningful places where the public can gather and have their collective imaginations be kindled. “Bellevue’s progressive stormwater system is not only an effective mechanism for building the city’s civic life, but also forms a compelling strategy for urban design – what might be termed a Civic Hydrology Framework.” (Poole, K. in Arcade; 2000:28).
Bellevue’s Civic Hydrological Urban Design Framework which has transformed the city, from ecosystem destruction through suburban sprawl, to an intensely physical - less a series of spaces than environments, that offer significant and complex experiences. “It is a linked, integrated, multi-dimensional and interdependent collection of infrastructures that forms a network.” (Poole, K. in Arcade, 2000:Civic Hydrology:28).
'Bellevue’s Framework challenged conventional stormwater after studies revealed that there were significant costs for solving urban runoff problems created by conventional stormwater management: runoff draining directly to the nearest watercourse was loaded with pollutants, making remediation costs high; conventional stormwater practices necessitated extensive culverting; erosion deposits required expensive and repeated dredging; and that protecting streams required costly engineering of banks. Thus an innovative natural drainage system of swales, constructed ponds and existing water bodies was recommended together with potential regional detention sites to filter stormwater, before discharging it back into the landscape - a series of sustainable urban drainage systems.
The city realized that it was in danger of becoming a bedroom community. And used its civic hydrology network to define neighbourhoods with definitive boundaries rather than coalescing into urban sprawl. In this way also protecting its civic identity. The increased public landscape areas and protection of its range of ecosystem types reinforces the ideal of access to primeval land.
Bellevue leveraged its new stormwater management lands into public recreation opportunities. Stormwater utility sites doubled as parks. In other cases the city placed them adjacent to one another in order to protect larger portions of natural ecosystems. In this way resisting the extinction of experience. By including public works functions like sewage treatment facilities and water tank sites Bellevue’s ‘backyard yard landscape’ created ‘Flood Gauge Park: A Gage of Public Fluidity’. Where the existing municipal detention basin apparatus catalyses the opportunities for four increasing levels of civic engagement: individual participation; civil organisation; civic organisation and individual leadership.'
The opportunities at a local scale in Cape Town, are endless - the notion of civic hydrology, by no means a new idea.