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Remunicipalisation, urban infrastructures and city form

Plenary Session

Carlos H Betancourth

International Consultor



An important principle for the public, transparent, participatory and sustainable management of the integral urban water cycle (remunicipalisation) is that water and its associated ecosystems are common goods that cannot be appropriated for the benefit of private interest. All of nature’s good and resources form part of the natural patrimony of the planet and are indispensable for the sustainment of life, which obligates us to preserve and protect them.

Yet, a certain model of city and its infrastructures tend to jeopardize these ecosystems. Extensive urbanization and urban sprawling requires the formation of thousands of square kilometres of impermeable areas made up of impervious roads, pavements, roofs and parking lots that do not allow water to be absorbed into the ground but that simply collect the rainwater through the urban drainage infrastructure and channel it into rivers, lakes or into the sea. This traditional city-form produces cities, which are increasingly impermeable and have an increasingly greater impact on the natural water cycle. In practice, this means that less water is available in urban and peri-urban areas, thus creating water poverty. In addition, within this very same city-form, rainwater and wastewater (namely water from our sinks and toilets) is collected by one single drainage system. When it rains, many times the wastewater treatment plants cannot accommodate all the water that the drainage systems carries. Therefore, much of the rainwater mixed with the wastewater is discharged untreated into rivers. This increases the level of pollution of local water bodies. Extensive urbanization and urban sprawling, also degrades urban ecosystems and green and blue landscapes. This causes a considerable loss of urban biodiversity, a drop in available green areas for natural ground filtration of storm water, a decrease in CO2 capture by plants, fewer spaces for natural cooling through urban green microclimates and generally less liveable, healthy, comfortable and attractive public spaces. Finally, this city form also increases the risk of flooding.

Thus the public managing of the integral water cycle, with criteria of solidarity, environmental sustainability, cooperation, collective access, equity and democratic control, requires an alternative city model. A city model that endures the sustainability of its integral urban water cycle would be a city composed of systems of integrated multifunctional infrastructures, capable to provide multiple ecosystems services

The management of the integrated water cycle faces a series of technical, social, environmental and economic challenges that need to be addressed in a coordinated and collaborative way among citizen associations and organisations, operators, institutions and governments. Returning water supply to public management is only the first step of remunicipalisation. It is fundamental that management models are created and implemented that guarantee citizen and democratic control, transparency and a rendering of accounts. Most important. These management models must guarantee the conservation of the good ecological state of water bodies, with new systems of integrated multifunctional eco-infrastructures, new city-forms, and, innovative and flexible technologies that contribute to ensuring sustainability over the long term.