Making Water Cultures Globally Mobile

How Knowledge Travels Between The Netherlands and India Through Water Sensitive Urban Design

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The Netherlands has initiated a process of ‘policy boosterism’ that attempts to make Dutch urban water culture and its associated imaginary of water sensitivity fit for global export. This strategic shift depends on the collaboration of a mosaic of actors, private and non-private to promote knowledge sharing between countries. As this new dynamic emerges, urban design becomes strategic to create future visions for cities towards more sustainable relationships with water. One such vision stems from Water Sensitive Urban Design, an approach that borrows from ecological urbanism with the objective to restore water ecologies in cities. This article looks at how urban design knowledge from the Netherlands provides concepts to describe, evaluate and promote urban water as an enabler of sustainability globally. It also investigates how networks of actors from the Netherlands interact to make imaginations about Water Sensitive Cities globally mobile. This entails the packaging of a mobile water culture that, ultimately, can re-shape power relations. Considering that cities rely on privileged accesses to global networks to disseminate ideas, port cities are potential sites for ‘policy boosterism’. The port city of Rotterdam, for instance, is the model city in the concerted effort to promote Dutch urban water expertise (Goh, 2020) and, in the context of Indo-Dutch partnerships, a port city was chosen for an urban design initiative: Water as Leverage in Chennai. The project acts as mechanisms through which imaginations of urban water is packaged from the Netherlands for global export. Interestingly, the principal way in which this translation happens is through the creation of an imaginary/vision/framework of water sensitivity that is appealing and meets broad societal goals. In this context, design becomes a powerful tool through which these broad visions are made ‘fit for purpose’ and influence – or not – local ideas of urban landscapes.