India is regarded as a perfect ‘testing ground’ to reflect on an urgent topic: the interplays and co-dependencies between society and nature.
The country lies at a historical crossroad of socio-ecological processes driven by growing urbanisation, globalisation and environmental urgencies. At this historical convergence there is the possibility to re-imagine urban and territorial development that could respond to both climatic dynamics and socio-economic-spatial inequalities. Moreover, the spiritual and sacred dimension of the domain of water in the country reinforce the case for a revival of nature-spatial-cultural interplays. In this line of thinking, the topic of water assumes not only an infrastructural and spatial dimension as the leverage through which to rethink spatial transformations, for sustainability transitions and resiliency, but also as a device to revive an immaterial and cultural dimension. Governance and management, social and political sciences, planning and design of the built and natural environment, infrastructure and technology innovations need to be equipped with better capacities to attend the increasingly complex, unstructured, non-linear water problems.
Thus, the project looks at alternative ways in which urban–territorial transformation can be delivered through strategies that support the dynamic equilibrium between governance, management, planning, design and technology. We apply transition management to co-create together with stakeholders in our three case study cities – Bhopal, Bhuj and Kozhikode – visions for water sensitivity in the long-term, and pathways to achieve the transition towards the vision across the four domains: (1) Society and Culture; (2) Design and Planning of the Built and Natural Environment; (3) Infrastructure and Technology; (4) Governance and Management. These strategies are built on the current built environment, institutional and knowledge frameworks in order to graft multifunctional services, water safety, equity and security – ultimately delineating alternative forms of socio-ecological development and governance.
Governance and management, social and political sciences, planning and design of the built and natural environment, infrastructure and technology innovations are ‘domains of change’ that in combination determine ’equilibrium’ solutions. Trying to develop a solution outside the equilibrium will cause resistance (social, economic, legal, technical failures). As dimensions evolve in time and space the equilibrium is not constant. Understanding the factors of these domains that determine the equilibrium and understanding how that equilibrium may change under future situations will be very helpful in developing accepted and functional implementable solutions that are sustainable and adaptive.
The impact targeted by the project is to contribute to the transition to a water-sensitive city (WSC) in the long-term. Ultimately, the aim is to facilitate long-term sustainability, equality and resilience of urban water systems by delivering an impact pathway for water security, climate change adaptation, reduction of safety costs and enhancement of human and environmental health, wellbeing and social cohesion in fast-growing secondary cities in India.
Drawing on the different steps of the transition management framework, the programme output starts by systemically understanding the spatial, ecological, economic and socio-cultural dynamics, existing technologies and infrastructure, relevant water policies and governance capacities.
Three case-study cities – (1) Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, (2) Bhuj, Gujarat, and (3) Kozhikode, Kerala – are used as archetypical secondary cities in India, characterised by specific climate, landscape, culture and economy. Lessons learned from the 3 cities are used towards a learning matrix for knowledge sharing of approaches across India alongside with considerations regarding their upscaling and applicability in other countries.