Defend, retreat and attack: Urban waters and valuation practices

Jesper Petersson
University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden; jesper.petersson@gu.se

Linda Soneryd
University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden; linda.soneryd@gu.se

ABSTRACT: This paper explores the river landscapes and concomitant values resulting from tensions between flood management and visions of a River City. The aim is to contribute to an understanding of the management of urban waters as valuation practices. We regard valuation practices as co-constitutive of current and future river landscapes. Sweden’s second-largest city, Gothenburg, is located next to the sea, and the Göta River, Sweden’s largest water system, runs through it. Our empirical focus is on how this city approaches increasing risks of flooding. We explore three approaches that have been formulated in relation to flood management: defend, retreat and attack. We ask how these approaches are applied in the management of Göta River flooding and in the city’s vision of a future Gothenburg that embraces the river as a genuinely positive aspect of urban life. We present the case as a journey that takes us upstream from the river’s sea inlet port and through Gothenburg. During our kilometre by kilometre journey, the river’s appearance shifts. The varied river landscape mirrors the diversity in how its waters are valuated, both historically and in present times. The perception of urban waters is shaped by practices of valuation. These valuations are generative. They connect the value of water to other entities, actors, plans, activities and buildings, and they are thus key to the river landscapes that will eventually be realised. By way of conclusion, we identify a number of governance challenges that are particularly relevant to urban rivers.

KEYWORDS: Flood management, urban planning, visions, river landscapes, valuation practices, Sweden