A Water-Systems Approach to
Understanding Rivers and Urban Form

14 March 2023
UC Berkeley Social Science Matrix

Most major cities are located on rivers or estuaries, taking strategic advantage for navigation, water supply, water power, and waste disposal.  The identity of many cities is closely linked to water.  Despite the important role of rivers in the shaping of cities, urban history and urban studies have largely ignored rivers and water.  In this project, we analyze the oft-overlooked role of rivers in urban history and their profound influence on urban form.  Applying the water-systems approach framework (Tvedt 2016), we analyze how cities have been shaped by their hydrologic environment, especially how rivers have shaped urban identity and urban form.  We highlight the influence of flood regime (adaptation to and control of floods) on urban form, and the popularity of revitalization of urban riverfronts.  Applying the social connectivity framework of Kondolf and Pinto (2017), we analyze the longitudinal and lateral connectivity of people, goods, ideas and culture along urban rivers over time: how these have been altered by past industrialization, as well as by recent riverfront revitalization projects. 

The workshop will be held in Berkeley March 2023 in the Social Science Matrix, UC Berkeley, and features in-person presentations by Terje Tvedt and Sarah Hamilton (University of Bergen), Pedro Garcia (Laval University, Quebec), Charisma Acey, Danielle Rivera, Anna Serra-Llobet, and Matt Kondolf (UC Berkeley).  Pedro Pinto (Technical University Lisbon) and Shuhan Shi (Beijing Sport University) will participate by zoom.  The exchange and research are funded by the Peder Sather Center and Global Metropolitan Studies.

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Programme (subject to change)

0830 — Introduction to workshop (Matt Kondolf)

0845 — Participant introductions

Syntheses and critical literature review of rivers in history:

0900 — Rivers in Urban Planning & Design literature (Pedro Pinto, via zoom)

0945 — Rivers, Urbanization and the Industrial Revolution: A topic neglected? (Terje Tvedt)

1030 — Coffee break

1100 — Rivers in Environmental History literature (Sarah Hamilton)

1130 — Discussion (moderated by Charisma Acey)

1200 — Lunch break

Case studies:

1330 — Rivers in the history of Lagos (Charisma Acey)

1400 — American & Sacramento Rivers: flood policy shapes the city (Anna Serra Llobet)

1430 — The Pajaro River: Flooding and equity (Danielle Rivera)

1500 — Coffee break

1530 — Revitalizing urban riverfronts: some examples (Pedro Ressano Garcia)

1615 — The Grand Canal, Hangzhou (Frank Yao)

1645 — New rivers for new cities: landscape garden cities in China (Shuhan Shi, via zoom)

1715 — Riverfront revitalization: ecology and equity?  (Matt Kondolf)

1745 — Discussion

1800 — Adjourn

Sunbathers on banks of the Rhône, Geneva.  Installation of wooden platforms providing access to the Rhône (formerly impossible due to vertical concrete banks) has created a swimming culture in the heart of the city.  Photo by Matt Kondolf, June 2018.
Truckee River in Reno, Nevada.  Wingfield Park provides access to the Truckee River, where installation of boulders and other features creates safe swimming areas for children and standing waves for kayakers.  The restored river attracts users from across the city, reflecting a wide demographic.   Photo by Matt Kondolf, August 2014.