Understanding societal preferences for sustainable water infrastructures

Delivering urban sustainability in the 21st century requires securing citizen consensus for adaptive and mitigative responses to climate change. Dutch cities must adapt to the reality of more intense rainfall surges alongside sea-level rise by new infrastructures to better rainfall runoff and retention flows to minimise flooding episodes and hence disruption to core urban functions. Yet developing these new infrastructures raises questions of how to build citizen consensus for these new developments and in particular the spectre of NIMBY resistance movements to interfering with the ‘natural’ landscape to maximise its climatic resilience, disrupting and delaying these new ‘blue infrastructures’s development and ultimately threatening these cities’ longer-term competitiveness and liveability.

In UBIDS we seek to understand how blue infrastructures acquire landscape and aesthetical value by citizens, to spark a wider societal debate about what kinds of sustainable drainage infrastructures are valuable for which kinds of place. Using the campus of the UT as a living laboratory and Design Lab as a space for facilitated productions, we create a tool embedded within a participative methodology by which citizens can better express their affective responses to infrastructures and through interaction with engineers are embedded into technical infrastructure developments. The University landscape provides an ideal living laboratory because of the extent to which blue infrastructure is woven into the landscape often invisible to students. The tool allows (student-)engineers to come together with (student-)citizens and through well-informed discussions articulate the technical, aesthetic and social values of these blue infrastructures, promoting their ultimate societal value.

SUD infrastructures are occasional backgrounds for unique life-changing events: We have witnessed a bridal couple being photographed against a retention basin within the UT campus. We aim to use these moments and make them part of a broader narrative to connect citizen knowledge and water landscapes, as what we call affective landscapes, places that are part of our mindscapes, places that we teach our children about, that we share on Facebook, and where we gather. Our pilot will engages with the University of Twente campus as a microcosm of the contemporary problem-world: as a technical university educating civil engineers who will plan and build these infrastructures, educating citizens who value and judge their wider surroundings, and hosting the debates whereby society exploits and evaluates that created knowledge.

The student engineers are continually faced with the problems of infrastructure development but all to readily bring them back to technical, financial and environmental considerations, losing the social and aesthetic values. In this project we seek to develop a methodology using students as active agents in the university campus as living laboratory which provides students with experiences by which they can better function as engineers and citizens, and develop a tool and supporting methodology to diffuse these practices wider into society.

Working Methods
Different stakeholders have perceptions and views about the water system as it is, as it should be and how that can best be achieved. When stakeholders interact and communicate with each other there is generally a common subject about which they think they are interacting or communicating. However, it happens that discussion partners, only after a while, realize that they each have attached different meanings and values to something they identify by the same name or label. Our earlier work demonstrated how using images (both pre-selected pictures as self-made drawings) created a common dialogue allowing stakeholders to communicate more effectively about aspects of the water systems for (re)design of the system, and about the meanings and values they attach to these aspects.

A project at TU Delft led by Hein developed a metadata system (KeySet) that allowed designers (in our case students) to assign perceptions, properties and ideas to a design product (e.g., model, image, text, picture, animation). This will be used as the basis to develop a model by which student-citizens can express their reactions to blue infrastructure and convert them into informed opinions which can be discussed with student engineers within a Design Lab context.

There are four work packages in the project:

WP1 Mapping the blue infrastructure of the campus, refining the Keyset tool to handle student-citizen feedback on ‘the blue campus’ to prepare a data gathering system.

WP2 Gathering student-citizen data on their affective responses to ‘the blue campus’

WP3 Facilitated workshops in DesignLab with student citizens creating well-informed opinions on the blue campus and the sustainable future city covering technical, aesthetic, social dimensions

WP4 Co-development of design guidelines for designable, liveable and social blue in discussion between student-citizens and student-engineers in facilitated workshops

Expertise of the team
Paul Benneworth is a Senior Research Associate at CHEPS: his research focuses on co-creative knowledge architectures for urban development. Paul will be responsible for WPs 2 and 3, overseeing the data gathering and the facilitated discussions with student-citizens on their blue campus judgements.

Marcela Brugnach is an Assistant Professor in Water Engineering and Management. Her research is on collaborative water system governance, focusing on collective decision making processes, knowledge co-production, and participatory processes. She will lead WPs 1 and 4 in developing design guidelines through a facilitated dialogue of citizens and engineers.

Two external partners are involved;
Professor Hein at TUD who will assist Paul & Marcela to construct the tool and analyse the data; Waterschap Vechtstroom who will assist by directing the boundary conditions for planning infrastructures compliant with current regulatory regimes e.g. Ruimte voor de Rivier, Klimaat Actieve Stad.