Making Space for the River: Experiences with Multifunctional River Planning in the US and Europe

Making Space for the River: Experiences with Multifunctional River Planning in the US and Europe


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This book examines recent developments in river (flood) management from the viewpoint of Making Space for the River and the resulting challenges for water governance. Different examples from Europe and the United States of America are discussed that aim to ‘green’ rivers, including increasing river discharge for flood management, enhancing natural and landscape values, promoting local or regional economic development, and urban regeneration.

Making Space for the River presents not only opportunities and synergies but also risks as it crosses established institutional boundaries and touches on multiple stakeholder interests, which can easily clash. Making Space for the River helps the reader to understand the policy and governance dynamics that lead to these tensions and pays attention to a variety of attempts to organize effective and legitimate governance approaches.

The book helps to realize connections between policy domains, problem frames, and goals of different actors at different levels that contribute to decisive and legitimate action. Making Space for the River has an international comparative character that sheds light upon both the country-specific governance dilemmas which relate to specific state traditions and institutional characteristics of national water management, but also uncovers interesting similarities which provide us with building blocks to formulate more generic lessons about the governance of Making Space for the River in different institutional and social contexts.

The authors of this book come from a variety of disciplines including public administration, town and country planning, geography and anthropology, and these different disciplines bring multiple ways of knowing and understanding of Making Space for the River programs. The book combines interdisciplinary scientific analyses of Space for the River projects and programs with practical knowing and lessons-drawing. Making Space for the River is written for both practitioners and scholars and students of environmental policy, spatial planning, land use and water management.

Editors: Jeroen Warner, Assistant Professor of Disaster Studies, Wageningen University, The Netherlands. Arwin van Buuren, Associate Professor of Public Administration, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Jurian Edelenbos, Professor of Public Administration, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781780401126
Publisher: IWA Publishing
Publication date: 11/15/2012
Pages: 218
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.75(d)

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Making Space for the River: governance challenges

Jeroen Warner, Jurian Edelenbos and Arwin van Buuren


Rivers instil primordial fears, but also attract floodplain dwellers and companies like magnets. This is because rivers are not just a source of danger and destruction, but also of opportunity and prosperity. The 20th century in many countries has seen the constraint of river inside trapezoidal channels, draining water as quickly as possible into the sea, and treating them as production factors, navigation channels and sewers, to keep water away from the people. But since the 1980s, a different perspective of the river has taken hold of river management circles – rediscovering the river as a source of thorough enjoyment, of natural beauty, as well as a premium location for living and working. The river inspires song, poetry and storytelling, like the poem by Thomas Moore (1856) below, and connects communities with their past and future.

The Meeting of the Waters by Thomas Moore

There is not in the wide world a valley so sweet As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet;
Yet it was not that nature had shed o'er the scene Her purest of crystal and brightest of green;
"Twas that friends, the beloved of my bosom, were near,
Sweet vale of Avoca! how calm could I rest In thy bosom of shade, with the friends I love best,
The current trend to make more "Space for the River" is – at least partially – an attempt to restore the original beauty of the river by combining economic values and water safety with ecological and cultural historical values. Space for the River has become a buzzword in river management in Western Europe and, as this book begins to show, various other locations all over the world. On the one hand, this means technical interventions – river deepening and widening – that increase the discharge capacity of rivers. Deepening allows, for example, for heavier cargo loads. On the other hand, Space for the River has the promise of sustainable, participatory planning, quality of life and economic regional development. Holistic and system-wide approaches of river flood management are being explored like in the Netherlands, France, and Germany, under different names, for example "spatial water management", "adaptive water management" or "water governance" (Edelenbos, 2010), in which a symbiotic co-evolution between water and land use is presupposed (Odum, 1971). In Britain, Poland and elsewhere, similar developments are found.

The main goal of this volume is to uncover patterns and diversity in Space for the River practices (programs and projects) all over the world. Making Space for the River implies that river management becomes intertwined with other domains such as urban planning, ecological restoration or recreation.

Sometimes this means that old and traditional value connections have to be rediscovered and sometimes it implies establishing new and unconventional connections. Such a connective approach can be called "holistic" (Green & Warner, 1999). However, even "holists" cannot connect everything and everybody. Every connection, for example between natural and recreational values, implies boundary judgments with possible disconnecting consequences for other values ad interests like agriculture or shipping (Edelenbos et al. 2012). After all, making space creates new opportunities, but can also carry opportunity costs and disable other functions. Making Space for the River is thus as much about politics and power as it is about dialogue and interaction.

Moreover, while the dominant discourse suggests Space for the River is a simultaneous move from vertical flood defences to horizontal expansion (widening) of rivers, and from vertical, top-down management to more egalitarian forms of multi-actor network governance, this is by no means an universal interpretation. In different countries the concept Space for the River is set in different historical, geographical, and institutional contexts encompassing diversity in physical, political, cultural, historical and policy factors. These contexts largely determine the way Space for the River takes shape in different countries. In this book we are explicitly interested the way these contexts give direction to Space for the River programs and projects. In France, like in the US, drives to reduce river degradation due to large dams brought together aquatic ecology, hydrology and geomorphology. In the Netherlands and Germany, pollution was a more prominent concern, and in the former country a "hydraulic culture" of damming and diking still dominates thinking (Van Hemert, 2008: 108–109) – a heritage that continues to influence interpretations of adaptation in terms of resistance instead of resilience.

"Making Space for the River" should therefore be considered in its local, regional and national setting to explore patterns of interpreting and implementing this concept. This is the main goal of this edited volume: to explore and compare different Space for the River projects and programs in order to discover patterns, similarities, but especially looking for differences in governance practices around the Space for the River concept, stemming from specific national, regional and local contexts of different countries.

The diversity of settings and varieties compels us to first explore what we mean by "making space" for the river (Section 2). After stating oft-made cases for making space, it highlights the key challenge – competing claims to the same space, competing values about how space should be utilised. The conflict between values is played out here, especially between safety, spatial development, and environmental and ecological qualities. The issue of flood safety, for example, touches on the (im)possibilities for the concomitant development of agriculture, nature, urban areas, infrastructure, and recreational space.

Making space first of all means making mind space, in which explorations and discoveries of new and fresh value connections can take place. In other words: existing boundaries of functional domains are increasingly blurred, as they become more or less integrated when space for the river becomes a new policy tenet. In Section 3 we reflect upon these blurring boundaries. Due to this boundary-crossing characteristics of making space for the river, we also witness the emergence of a different governance paradigm accompanying the implementation of specific "space" projects. We describe this paradigm in Section 4.

Sections 5 and 6 critically reflect upon two implicit assumptions behind many Space for the River projects: that they automatically result in "win-win solutions" and that they are fundamentally different from traditional river management approaches. In Section 7 we introduce the huge variety of interpretations of Space for the River which are used in various countries. In Section 8 we present the outline of this book, introduce the conceptual framework for the various contributions and give short introductions to the coming chapters.


Space for the River, first of all, requires spanning the mind-space with which we think about river basins and systems. A more inclusive approach to river management means both the involvement of other stakeholders than the usual (technical) experts and also means the broadening of problem definitions and future solutions.

Making mind space helps to conceive of as yet unexplored alternatives, to find the courage to go into uncharted territories – together, as river planning touches the lives and livelihoods of many. It seeks dynamic solutions to build with nature and with people rather than technical fixes. But we acknowledge that deliberation and working with nature does not have all the answers – we still very much need the skills of the technical guys, and we cannot avoid social conflict – we are well advised to anticipate and work with it. Conflict over floodplain planning can put things on edge and obstruct smooth progress, but also open new avenues. Space for the River processes can be slow and time-consuming, but at the same time lead to more legitimate and effective processes and products. The approach has risks that are ignored at one's peril – social, political, environmental, economic, but risk has two sides: it brings the anxiety of danger, but also of adventure (Tuan, 1979). The present authors are convinced that we will find it well worth the trouble in the long run.

"Mind-space" also opens opportunities for developing innovative adaptation measures and incorporating new instruments and technologies for floodwater management (e.g. bypasses) floodplain maintenance, occupation (floating houses), as well as new economic and institutional models for analysis of river management. In the Netherlands the program Waalweelde (not included in this volume) exemplifies the conscious regional attempt to enlarge the scope for river development options along the river Waal and to bring in landscape architecture and other creative disciplines to combine flood risk management with branding the river as a nice place to be (e.g. in Scholten, 2010). The same connotation to "mind-space" is the European program Freude am Fluss with a comparable aim to combine investments in water management with investments in recreation, ecology, landscape quality and "experience" (Wesselink & Warner, 2010).

Thinking about rivers in terms of combining or integrating values, perspectives, interests therefore, first and foremost are about opening the domain of water managers to allow for the entrance of new stakeholders and opinions. At the same time it is important to realize, as Hartmann (2010) notes: the balance between flood safety on the one hand and other interests (nature development, recreation, urban development, etc.) on the other hand depends on how long ago the last flood appeared. After a flood, the call for hierarchical top-down intervention in favour of flood safety is obviously large, but as the memory fades, pressures to colonise the floodplain and allow market forces to operate become stronger. The "de-securitisation" of the river may imply greater risk acceptance, but new threats (climate change) can make the pendulum swing back again.


Rivers connect past, present and future, they link remote locations, different cultures, habitats, and markets, often across administrative and territorial boundaries. Many people feel a strong bond with river for this reason. The river is depicted as a mother or a father, a goddess, a spirit. If we were to take an analytical approach along the lines of Actor Network Theory (e.g. Callon, 1986), it would strip the river of its metaphysical qualities, but nevertheless leaves space for the river as an "actant", an inanimate object that connects, enrols, sets in motion. In its flow, the river forces us to make (provokes) connections (compare the poem by Thomas Moore in the first paragraph of this chapter).

A more inclusive and coherent vision of the river and its floodplain can break open compartmentalised, entrenched land use patterns. Making space has generated enthusiasm to rethink regional development, is used as a lever to rejuvenate messy landscapes. Making Space for the River often is multipurpose/ multi-issue: security from floods (and/or droughts), economic development, enhancing natural values, urban regeneration, leisure, not to mention non-spatial functionalities such as political prestige and city branding and exporting new concepts abroad. This inevitably means dealing and compromise between many stakeholders and their value priorities.

The compromises inherent in multi-purpose projects and programs also means that such approaches are risky – apart from residual flood risk, public opposition, ecological squeeze or economic setbacks remain entirely possible. Also, as functional colours (brown, blue, green) are mixed, fans of the original colours will make themselves heard. Some will argue for a return to structural flood control solutions such as embankments and floodwalls, and top-down forms of management to deal with emergencies. Still others resist local interventions, fearing adverse affects on their living environment and aim for a louder local voice. Riparians may disagree that their area is "underdeveloped" and "uninteresting". They may suspect the security argument being abused for ulterior political or economic purposes.

After all, making space can be really costly – economically, socially, and sometimes environmentally. Salvaging or promoting natural values costs rather more than it generates. However, an alluring river environment attracts companies and middle-class families. Project initiators are therefore easily tempted by building upmarket developments to pay for the cost of river regeneration. Sometimes stakeholders wonder what drives what – security, nature, or profit? The concept, then, is not without its critics, both in scientific and societal circles.

Space for the River is a "resilience" (bouncing back, "safe-fail") rather than a "resistance" (defence, "fail-safe") approach to flooding. It seeks to reduce disaster risk, but accepts that there is always a residual. A resilience approach accepts that flooding may occur now and again, but seeks to the exploit the (social and ecological) pluses of flooding and mitigate the minuses. Such "risk acceptance" with respect to flood hazard brings possibilities for public participation, but also possible negatives to project initiators because (among other reasons) stakeholders are not necessarily happy with solutions that explicitly request them to accept risk and the dynamics of uncertainty. This is more of a revolution for some than for others. For example in Switzerland there is a traditional resilience culture where people accept that their properties are flooded now and again (Zaugg, 2002). In other countries, such as the Netherlands, this resilience culture is underdeveloped and a resistance tradition is still largely in place.

The balance between resistance and resilience can be explored by site and by project. Especially where multiple problems and opportunities meet, there are opportunities for planning together with public, private and civil-society stakeholders, and for balancing human and natural values. Where things are not so clear from the start, it makes little sense to plan rigidly; rather, like a meandering river, participatory planning can mean "going with the flow" within more precisely defined boundaries. Boundaries are developed along the way in the process of coordination and participation. "Rivers vs. people" is not a zero-sum game; there is scope for considering the limits and opportunities for each case to see when the outcome is plus-sum and when minus-sum.


Excerpted from "Making Space for the River"
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Table of Contents

About the Editors and Contributors, xiii,
Preface, xv,
Chapter 1 Making Space for the River: governance challenges Jeroen Warner, Jurian Edelenbos and Arwin van Buuren, 1,
Chapter 2 Space for the River: a condensed state of the art Jitske Verkerk and Arwin van Buuren, 15,
Chapter 3 Space for the River IJssel: Tortuous quests for striking an acceptable balance between water, nature and development Jurian Edelenbos, Arwin van Buuren and Jeroen Warner, 33,
Chapter 4 Dealing with uncertainties in the Dutch Room for the River programme: a comparison between the Overdiep polder and Noordwaard Jurian Edelenbos, Dik Roth and Madelinde Winnubst, 51,
Chapter 5 CalFed and collaborative watershed management: success despite failure? Mark Lubell, Andrea Gerlak and Tanya Heikkila, 63,
Chapter 6 Integrated water resources management in the United States: The Rogue and Willamette River cases Richard Margerum, 79,
Chapter 7 Finding "Space for Water": crossing concrete policy thresholds in England Karen Potter, 89,
Chapter 8 A tale of two channels for the Thames Jeroen Warner, 103,
Chapter 9 Land policy for German Rivers: making Space for the Rivers Thomas Hartmann, 121,
Chapter 10 Strong sentiments on the Scheldt: dike displacements in Flanders and the Netherlands Arwin van Buuren, 135,
Chapter 11 Flood-risk and watershed management conflicts in France: Upper catchment management of the river Rhône Patrick Pigeon, 149,
Chapter 12 Integrated and participatory planning to create more Space for the River Danube in Romania Joanne Vinke-de Kruijf, Denie C.M. Augustijn and Hans Bressers, 163,
Chapter 13 Giving Space to the Tisza River in Hungary Saskia E. Werners, Adrian Southern and Zsuzanna Flachner, 177,
Chapter 14 Space for the River: governance challenges and lessons Arwin van Buuren, Jurian Edelenbos and Jeroen Warner, 187,

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