Returning water to urban life

Governmentality of green infrastructure and the emergence of new human-water relations

Authored by: Irene J. Klaver , J. Aaron Frith

The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of the City

Print publication date:  September  2019
Online publication date:  August  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138928787
eBook ISBN: 9781315681597
Adobe ISBN:


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In this chapter, we consider cities as agents of change by examining the socio-cultural-political ramifications of transitioning urban hydrological infrastructure from “gray” to “green.” Traditional gray infrastructure – especially in terms of impermeable surfaces – is costly, inefficient, and damaging to ecosystem processes. Green infrastructure – hybrid planned spaces such as parks, wetlands, non-concrete detention ponds, and rooftop gardens – creates permeable surfaces that allow for water infiltration into the soil, and other natural processes, even for the possibility of what we call “the accidental wild.” It is multifunctional, sustainable, and potentially transformative. A wealth of literature suggests it not only revitalizes flagging ecosystems, mitigates natural disasters, improves stormwater management, and lessens the impact of climate change, it also excites civic engagement, fosters economic growth, bolsters environmental justice, promotes urban resilience, and enhances quality of life in cities. Just as importantly, green infrastructure’s hybrid nature allows it to serve as public space, fostering a socio-cultural nexus around water bodies. It turns water from a functional H2O abstraction into living experiential water bodies. Our case study of detention pond SCS16 in Denton, Texas, suggests the revolutionary potential of bringing urban water infrastructure into sight, renewing community connections with water and allowing urban dwellers to experience water as more than mere utility.

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