First ever professor of Ethics of Water Engineering: ‘Take account of the differing opportunities available to citizens’
On Friday, 16 November, Prof. Neelke Doorn gave her inaugural address as professor of Ethics of Water Engineering. As a result, TU Delft is the first university in the world with a chair focusing specifically on the ethical aspects of water management and technology. The address can be watched via Collegerama.
How do we reconcile measures needed to combat drought with flood prevention measures? How important are individual interests when it comes to interventions that make major claims on limited space? How do we share the risks and responsibilities between the government and citizens?
"Climate change, demographic developments and the changing relationship between citizens and government mean that many of today’s water challenges raise urgent questions", Prof. Neelke Doorn says in her inaugural address. "The issues around water are not merely technological in nature, but also ethical. TU Delft has acknowledged the urgency of this issue and is offering me the opportunity to shape the new chair in Ethics of Water Engineering. This is the world's first ever chair to focus specifically on the ethical aspects of water management and technology."
In her inaugural address, Doorn highlights the ideal of resilience. "It's playing an increasingly important role in water policy. The government cites resilience as its reason for increasingly expecting citizens to actively contribute to making their own living environments climate-proof, with everyone doing their bit, in their own different ways. But this also immediately raises questions about the sharing of responsibilities. Unless attention is paid to the fact that different citizens have different opportunities, there is a risk that the ideal of resilience will create major inequalities, which will impact quality of life in cities and neighbourhoods. This is an important theme, especially for policymakers in local government and water authorities, but also for urban designers and spatial planners."
As an example, Doorn cites the creation of Truus Mast Park in the Altrade neighbourhood of Nijmegen-Oost. "There used to be a swimming pool here. When the swimming pool was demolished, the residents – many of them highly educated – were able to change the local zoning plan to ‘green’, preventing the construction of new houses. Instead, a park was created, on the residents’ initiative. They had the ability to cleverly navigate the local subsidy landscape. There is no doubt that this park contributes to climate-proofing the neighbourhood and is a good example of the resilience approach."
"But is everyone capable of achieving this?", Doorn wonders. "If a resilient city involves individual citizens having to do more while the government withdraws, this could result in the emergence of undesirable differences. If we are not fully aware of what different groups of people are able or can afford to do, the resilience ideal could end up creating major inequalities."