Watering the Cosmopolis

I use the concept of cosmopolis in Leonie Sandercock’s sense, referring to a city that’s developed in ways sensitive to cultural diversity and its wider societal benefits (e.g., enhanced vitality and creativity). In a recent post I noted that the sessions devoted to “Wilderness City” water planning at the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute’s 2012 Conference seemed to take as self-evident the meaning of terms like “public”, “values”, “housing” and, especially, “culture.” Proposed solutions to urban “hydro-sustainability” problems were informed by a Western worldview that sees water as a scarce economic good or commodity. Many of the discussions were framed in terms of white, middle-class consumer values and behavior, and the settlement preferences of Generation X and Generation Y. (Some of the RMLUI conference talks and slide shows are posted here). In short, it wasn’t clear that conference presenters were thinking about the city as a cosmopolitan enterprise.

Resources can be valued on something other than economic, utilitarian grounds, and urban demography can be described in terms other than Gen X and Gen Y. It’s an anthropological taken-for-granted that cultures value and assign meaning to water differently. For many cultures water is a spiritual as well as an economic good. For some it’s a basic human right. Minimally, water is integral to many if not most domains of society. The different meanings and structural relationships of water need to be recognized by urban planners and basic service providers. Daily household demands for water are also cross-culturally variable. Thus, it’s problematic to assume that any particular pattern of water consumption is “typical” for an urban population generally. Water management issues are as much cultural—or intercultural—as technical. While particular Non-Western notions of water as sacred can easily dovetail with a Western ethos of environmental sustainability, particular regulating strategies like water metering, recycling, budgeting, etc. can conflict with particular cultural values identifying water as sacred and a basic human right. Certainly, management strategies like differential pricing based on intensity of use can easily discriminate against some cultural groups and contradict broader civic commitments to tolerance and inclusion.


Ritual Bathing in the Ganges River, India

Interest in the cultural values that shape water use has been growing since at least 2000. In that year UNESCO organized a session on “Water and Indigenous People” at the 2nd World Water Forum at The Hague. The organizing theme for the 3rd World Water Forum in Kyoto in 2003 was “Water and Cultural Diversity.” Even with these significant interventions the Cultural Diversity and Water Sustainability “Session Situation Document” for the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul in 2009 noted that “interdisciplinary and systemic analysis of the relationships between cultural diversity and water, and their implications for sustainable management of water resources, are still lacking.” Read more

Most Dangerous River Rapids

For most people, the prospect of river rafting triggers thoughts of family time, relaxation and a meandering exploration of the outdoors. It sounds nice, and it is. All the same, most people need not venture out on these raging rapids. These rivers are the deadliest bodies of freshwater on the planet. What about Adrenalists? Can they tackle them? Well, that’s another story altogether. If you’ve got proper training and a more-than-healthy thirst for intense risk, why wouldn’t you jump right in?

For those of you feeling game, we’ve compiled a first-class list of rapids that will either give you a coronary or place you among a select few who’ve conquered the nearly insurmountable.

Amazon River


The Amazon River is the most powerful river in the world and accounts for 1/5 of the world’s river flow. Its shores are set so wide apart, and its rapids are so incredibly powerful, that it houses not one single bridge or point at which one could cross without risking their lives and getting very, very wet. To give a clear idea of the Amazon’s might, it’s reported that over eight trillion gallons of water discharge at its mouth each day, which is certainly enough flow to pummel would-be swimmers down towards its 150-foot depths. Unless you’re superhuman, you should think twice about tackling this one. Read more

10 Most Breathtaking Fountains in the World

1. Bellagio Fountains (Las Vegas): A Choreographed Water Show

The Fountains of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas (USA) are a vast, choreographed water fountains with performances set to light and music. The performances are visible from numerous vantage points on the Strip, both from the street and from neighboring structures. The fountain’s show takes place every 30 minutes in the afternoons and early evenings, and every 15 minutes from 8 PM to midnight. The Fountains are set in a nine-acre man-made lake. The fountain display is choreographed to various pieces of music; current pieces include “Fly Me To The Moon” (Frank Sinatra), “Time to Say Goodbye” (Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli) and “My Heart Will Go On” (Celine Dion).


Contrary to a common urban myth that the lake is filled with treated greywater from the hotel, it is actually serviced by a fresh water well, that was drilled decades prior to irrigate a golf course which previously utilized the site. In fact, the fountains use less water at present than under its prior golf course use. They incorporate a network of underwater pipes with over 1,200 nozzles that makes it possible to stage fountain displays coordinated with over 4,500 lights. It is estimated that the fountains cost US$50 million to build. Read more

Songkran Water Festival – Thai New Year


While Thais are always up for a good celebration, and certainly celebrate the western and the Chinese New Years with gusto, the most popular and important celebration in the Thai calendar is the Songkran Festival – the traditional Thai New Year. Previously calculated astrologically, the Songkran Festival is now fixed on the 13th to the 15th of April. It’s not unusual for Thais to take their holiday time from work during this week, and all of Thailand shuts down for at least 13 – 15 April. Read more

In Depth: Desert skyscrapers could be a wind ‘game-changer’

Construction of two sky-scraping wind-driven “downdraft towers” that could eventually supply electricity to more than three million homes is on track to start in 2014, after Clean Wind Energy (CWE) was given the green light to proceed with the 5GW mega-project.

“The concept has been around for 30 years — but how to build a tower of the size needed is the thing” – Ron Pickett.watertower

The US company’s revolutionary power-station concept, to be built on a 6,880-hectare site near San Luis, southwest Arizona, is based on what would be the world’s tallest man-made structure — a 914-metre hollow tower — outfitted with a water-spray system. Read more