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On Water in the “Just City”

December 2, 2015Patrick NunnallyRiver MeaningComments Off on On Water in the “Just City”

Lots of people involved in water conversations take for granted many of the issues peripheral to their main concentration.  Folks may be focused on water quality or availability, on the strength and resilience of aquatic ecological communities, or the varying roles that water bodies play in urban community development.  This last bit, where people are concentrating on disparate things like parks, urban riverfront revitalization, and brownfield cleanup, point professionals toward multi-sector collaboration and interdisciplinary inquiries.

All of this is fine, but there’s a key question that often gets left out: For whom are we working?  It is certainly true that clean, abundant water is a critically important benefit for all sectors of society.  It’s less evident that water-based public space is equally “public” for everyone.  We have been poking around with this question of how issues of equity and inequality intersect with the critically important issues attached to urban water and water-related open space such as waterfront parks.  There are interesting conversations taking place about urban ecology, urban sustainability, and urban livability.  But it wasn’t until we ran across this set of readings The Just City Essays: 26 Visions for Urban Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity that we felt we were getting to the heart of the matter.  These writings, drawn from an international cast of designers, planners, scientists, and critical theorists, put human well-being–for ALL of the population–at the center of their discussions.

The writing gathered in The Just City Essays would be a valuable basis for even more broad-ranging conversations on the role of water as both amenity and necessity in formulating the “just city.”  These conversations should take place in classrooms and seminars, at academic conferences and professional meetings, even on street corners and community gathering spots.

Water needs to be part of the discussion of urban justice, and urban justice certainly needs to be part of the conversation on water.  If you know where these conversations are happening, and what is being developed out of them, drop me a note or post a comment in reply to this post; we’re collecting literature on this intersection and always want to learn and share more.

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