Cities are the place of the future, sheltering 66% of world’s population by 2050. Climate change is increasing the already complex task of urban planners to create resilient cities. The challenge is to find a balance between social and economic development, technology, and a sustainable use of nature. This means a transition towards a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach. At the same time, this approach must be open and accessible to multiple stakeholders, with different aims and perspectives, to achieve legitimacy. Moreover, it is fundamental to understand the social-cultural values that connect the individuals and can empower the actors, framing the new model of water governance. In the context of these Integrated Water Management approaches, there is a trend to ‘make space for rivers’ aiming to restore the original attractiveness of rivers combining economic development, water safety, ecological sustainability and social-cultural values. River restoration programmes is a hot topic both in research and in practice, reflecting the more natural connection between urban societies and the environment. In this study, the researchers analyse the river restoration programme ‘Room for the Waal’, in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Their objective is to investigate how citizens who were mostly affected by the project (living on the neighbourhoods transformed), and experts involved in the decision-making, perceive: A) the changed urban landscape, regarding social-cultural values, and B) the ex-post legitimacy of the programme outcome and process of decision-making. Moreover, the aim is to discover and explain whether C) a relationship can be established between these two perceptions (A and B). Regarding the research methodology, the strategy chosen was the Case Study. Twenty-four semi-structured interviews were conducted with inhabitants affected by the programme, living in the area transformed, and with experts involved in the decision-making, from different government levels and consultancy firms. Furthermore, secondary data were analysed to support the primary data collection. The data analysis showed that citizens and experts have a very positive perception on the transformed urban landscape in Nijmegen, after the ‘Room for the Waal’ realization. Four social-cultural values were analysed in this study to understand landscape perception: aesthetic and symbolic, place attachment, recreation, and values of nature. Furthermore, it was found that the perception on legitimacy, both on the outcome and on the decision-making process is overall positive among the citizens who were mostly affected by the programme and experts involved in it, with some reservations. The main research finding on this study is that a relationship can be established between perceptions on the transformed urban landscape and on the programme legitimacy. The findings supported the expectations that a positive perception on the transformed landscape, now that it is completed and usable, would lead to a more positive perception on the outcome legitimacy – that the result is in their best interest – and even on the decision-making process legitimacy – a feeling that ‘it was worth it’. Furthermore, the vice-versa also could be applicable: a good perception on legitimacy might increase the appreciation for the changed urban environment. Indeed, it can be concluded that a both-way relationship has occurred between the two variables. This research has both academic and practical implications, suggesting a proximity between the fields of water governance – legitimacy and landscape perception – social-cultural values.

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Scholten, P. (Peter)
Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies

Quadros Aniche, L. (Laura). (2017, September). Room for the river waal. Retrieved from