Water – The Challenge posed on World Town Planning Day 2013

Cape San MartinI am writing this while listening to other speakers in the World Town Planning Day Global Virtual Conference on “Water: the Fluid Challenge”. Water is of fundamental importance in planning, yet has received surprisingly little attention until recently. You won’t find it mentioned in any of the standard texts about Planning Theory. While waterfront development has been prominent for 30 years, there are many other aspects of water that a global view of the relation between water and planning would address.
The seas and economic development

Europe has the largest merchant shipping fleet, employing 300,000 seafarers and 3 million in related jobs. Thirty per cent of world shipping passes through the Mediterranean, though the main European ports are in the English Channel and the North Sea because inland connections to key markets are better from there.

The patterns of sea trade are changing. Economic growth in Africa and Asia will change the volume and direction of flows. Already we are seeing Morocco develop as a significant competitor to some southern European ports. The onward links from ports will poses major challenges for strategic planning. There is clear potential for planned corridor growth, as is already happening in the Johannesburg-Maputo Corridor.

The prospect of climate change opening up Artic shipping routes between Asia and Europe would create significant shifts. It takes 29 days to go from Europe to Asia via the Cape of Good Hope, 22 days through the Suez Canal, but potentially 19 days via the Arctic.

However, the Arctic is a pristine environment. What would be the impact of major shipping using it? The Arctic is also likely to be an increasingly contended focus for oil drilling.

Long distance freight is but one aspect of the economic development aspects of shipping. Short-sea shipping is growing within Europe. There are 800,000 jobs and growth in Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and North Africa is expected to increase the demand for short-sea shipping.

Add in cruise shipping, and the potentials for what the EU is calling “Blue Growth” it is clear that the economic dimension of the land-sea interface is going to be an increasing concern. The EU’s support for marine spatial planning is something that planners everywhere should be pointing up and endorsing.

Water shortages

Currently, 150 million people live in cities with water shortages. With 3 billion extra urban dwellers forecast globally by 2050, where is the extra water to come from? Expectations are that the 150M will swell to a billion. Climate change will cause shortages for an additional 100M urbanites. Mega-cities such as Lagos, Delhi, Beijing, Tehran and Mexico City look particularly vulnerable. As Richa Ankush Pathe is just explaining in the Global Conference, urban areas seek to solve their problems by taking water from rural areas, which exacerbates shortages for villagers.

Water shortages also impact on rivers, lakes, wetlands, wildlife and agriculture. Problems are particularly acute in small islands which have very limited capacity to store water and are often places that attract tourists with high water demands, yet who are vital to their economy.
It is easy to call for more efficient use of water and for sustainable urban drainage systems, as I do, but the scale of the urban water challenge in practice is daunting, and potentially a source for major confrontations between haves and have-nots.
The International Association of Hydro-Engineering and Research has recently produced a Water Security Declaration. It is not perfect – it makes no mention of urban poverty, for example. However, at least it represents a global professional initiative. It is also worth noting that this global group of water professionals has existed since 1935. Furthermore, it includes “research” in its title, whereas dialogue between research and practice in planning is very weak.
Maybe the Global Planning Network could build on this year’s World Town Planning Day conference by making contact with International Association of Hydro-Engineering and Research and working jointly to raise the profile of the issue of urban water.

Scope and ethics of planning

Finally my presentation, which I believe will be available as a podcast, looked at what this all meant for the scope and ethics of planning and planners. Fundamentally we need always to but urbanisation as the centre point of all discussions – it is the core business of urban planners, and affects everything else – water, education, health, environment etc. Beyond that, planning needs to have fuzzy edges. We need to work across boundaries – spatial, professional and social. Geddes’ “Folk-Work-Place” still defines better than any statutory code just what planning should be about.

The way planning is defined also shapes planners’ perceptions of their ethical concerns. Once we recognise the centrality of urbanisation and embrace the cross-cutting Geddesian vision, then spatial justice becomes a central ethical question. It connects to social justice through the operation of housing markets and the processes of agglomeration. But, hey, that sounds like the start of a whole new blog!