From The Editor | July 10, 2017

Touring The World Of Water Infrastructure

By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online

28_VERT_0717_Chawaga_450by300

An ambitious, globe-trotting program invites attendees to learn from the infrastructure accomplishments and challenges of the world’s premier riverfront cities. With water becoming an increasingly valuable resource and the world’s drinking and wastewater infrastructure in peril, what can these metropolises teach us?

Water has long played a critical role in how the world’s greatest cities were formed and how they grow into the future.

With an understanding of just how crucial that relationship is, AECOM, an infrastructure design and construction firm, and Asia Society, a nonprofit focused on education about the continent, centered the inaugural year of its “Imagine 2060” program on the world’s urban waterfronts. The overall program, which will be conducted for three years and travel around the world, wants to motivate leaders in urban design, infrastructure, and public policy to think about the long-term infrastructure needs of their respective cities.

The overall program, which will be conducted for three years and travel around the world, wants to motivate leaders in urban design, infrastructure, and public policy to think about the long-term infrastructure needs of their respective cities.

“AECOM and Asia Society identified five key lenses through which to consider each city’s future state,” said Sylvester Wong, an AECOM vice president and its head of buildings and places for the Philippines. “It is the effective balance of well-being, economic development, culture, mobility, and innovation in project delivery, which lie at the heart of any city’s success. Using these lenses, AECOM and Asia Society will ensure the key insights are collected and shared between the cities and the participants.”

All five of these lenses could easily describe the importance of renewed focus on a city’s relationship to water, particularly those with waterfronts. With that in mind, the first year of Imagine 2060 will visit Manila, Sydney, Los Angeles, New York City, and Hong Kong under the title “2017: At The Water’s Edge.”

“Seafronts and riverfronts are the birthplace of most of the world’s urban conurbations,” Wong said. “As cities have grown, their relationship with water has grown, as an essential potable resource, as a mode of transport, as access to trade. But also as a threat, from flooding and climate change, to a conveyance of pollution.”

Exploring Manila

The program began with a visit to Manila. The city’s history provided an ideal starting point to examine the role that water plays on city infrastructure.

“Water surrounds Manila on three sides. Water-related experiences and quality touch the lives of everyone in the city,” said Wong. “By re-embracing Manila’s identity as one of Asia’s most relevant waterfront economies, Manileños have an opportunity to articulate a unique position and trajectory in the global economy.”

Crucial to this vision, however, is a focus on water and wastewater treatment.

“Quality of potable water from its reservoirs is impacted by flooding and storms and quality of waterfronts from pollution,” said Wong. “Currently, only 8 percent of Manila’s population is connected to the sewer system, which puts major pressure on rivers and oceanfronts to deal with sewage. With a vision that harnesses waterfronts and an urban population that continues to boom, Manila must be bolder in its plans to refresh and expand its capacity to clean and treat water.”

While each stop on the Imagine 2060 tour has its own relationship to source water and its own unique challenges for drinking and wastewater, they share the need to refocus on infrastructure in order to grow into the future.

Around The World

While each stop on the Imagine 2060 tour has its own relationship to source water and its own unique challenges for drinking and wastewater, they share the need to refocus on infrastructure in order to grow into the future.

Sydney, for instance, faces questions over who should protect the resource.

“Sydney is renowned as a community that celebrates life on the water and the evolution of its waterfront … [and] is filled with lessons in regional and multijurisdictional institutions and the challenges of advancing and stewarding a shared resource,” Wong said.

Los Angeles is, of course, plagued with water scarcity problems and questions about its iconic river.

“Los Angeles’ own history sprang forth from the epic diversion of water from the north for cities and agriculture, and today the Los Angeles River is both a barrier and a seam stitching together the sprawling megalopolis,” said Wong. “Efforts to revitalize that river’s edge, combined with the evolution of the working industrial waterfronts all along the coast, are today key springboards for L.A.’s future.”

New York City presents a high-level example of the importance of water and wastewater resiliency in the face of emergency.

New York City presents a high-level example of the importance of water and wastewater resiliency in the face of emergency.

“New York is one of the leading harbors in the world, also enabled by a revolutionary water infrastructure during its early days,” Wong said. “Surprised and stunned by the impact of Hurricane Sandy, its future lies not only in coping with the stresses of aging water and transport infrastructure, but also in better preparation for the acute shocks of climate change.”

The last city in the tour will provide a glimpse into a city’s infrastructure that AECOM sees as an international model.

“The final stop of the series takes us to Hong Kong, which is an exemplar of how to embrace its waterfront identity over the past 40 years,” Wong said. “The city has developed some of the world’s most impressive infrastructure, including undersea tunnels, typhoon-resistant rail bridges, territory-wide treatment conveyance systems, and storm and slope management that continues to evolve.”

Post-Hurricane Sandy, New York City Transit employees pump water out of the Cranberry Street Tunnel, which carries trains between Brooklyn and Manhattan underneath the East River. (Credit: Flickr/Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York)

End Of The Tour

As something of a grand tour, hitting some of the world’s most prestigious waterfront cities, the inaugural Imagine 2060 program has an ambitious agenda and an even loftier, overarching goal: to change the way the world thinks about water and wastewater infrastructure.

While it might not be realistic to expect such diverse cities to change overnight nor for attendees to influence their own cities’ infrastructure on a revolutionary level, 2017: At The Water’s Edge certainly marks a step in the right direction.

“As the program and conversation evolve, we hope for participants to be inspired by the enabling relevance of all forms of water, as resource, as place, as identity,” Wong said. “We hope that attention to the quality of our most precious resource is recognized as an enabler not only of a healthy, mobile, connected community, but also of a competitive, investible, sustainable city.”

About The Author
Peter Chawaga is the associate editor for Water Online. He creates and manages engaging and relevant content on a variety of water and wastewater industry topics. Chawaga has worked as a reporter and editor in newsrooms throughout the country and holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in journalism. He can be reached at pchawaga@wateronline.com.