Call for papers

River Cities: Water Space in Urban Development and History

Deadline: 1 May 2017

Symposium dates: 11 & 12 December 2017

Hosted by Airlangga University, Surabaya, Indonesia  

Supported by the Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA), Airlangga University, and the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden, the Netherlands

Conveners: Dr Paul Rabé, Adrian Perkasa (M.A.) and Dr Rita Padawangi 


Cities and water can be said to have a love-hate relationship (1), and this is especially true of rivers in cities in Asia. Many Asian cities, like their cousins in the rest of the world, owe their locations to rivers and the trading opportunities and water sources these rivers provided.  In recent years, cities across China are beautifying their water fronts, and cities as diverse as Singapore and Seoul are turning their rivers into assets as part of urban redevelopment schemes or restoring them in an effort to bring nature back to the city. But many other cities in Asia have their backs turned to their rivers. Where rivers were once trading and transport arteries, nowadays many of them have suffered neglect as roads and evolving trading patterns have supplanted the rivers’ economic and social functions. Their decline has been accompanied by environmental destruction, as their waters have become polluted and serve as the dumping ground for solid waste. Moreover, riverbank settlements evolved into legally ambiguous spaces, as old settlements were detached from land formalization regimes and were subjected to environmental deterioration from the rivers. Far from being an asset, these rivers have become an eyesore—and occasionally also a threat, owing to flooding exacerbated by poor planning and a poor understanding of the place of these water bodies in the wider regional eco-system.  

(1) Reference is to: Feldman, D.L. (2017). The Water Sustainable City.  Cheltenham: Edward Elgar

Symposium objectives

This symposium seeks to uncover the relationship between rivers and cities from a multi-disciplinary perspective in the humanities and the social sciences. The symposium welcomes both scholars and practitioners. It aims to contribute innovative ways of thinking about how to better integrate rivers, creeks and canals—including their environmental, historical, social, political, cultural and economic dimensions—into the fabric of contemporary cities.  The focus is on cities in Asia, but papers on other parts of the world will also be considered if they make explicit their relevance to Asian cities.

Papers are welcomed in four categories of investigation:

  1. Rivers and cities in historical perspective (history, heritage, culture, and geography)
  2. Neighborhoods and social life of riverine communities
  3. Evaluating experiences with riverfront and riverbank settlement and design interventions in Asia
  4. Urban policy perspectives and innovations

Application procedures

Interested scholars and practitioners should submit an abstract of no more than 250 words and a short biography of no more than 150 words by 1st of May 2017 via the online application form.  

Authors of selected abstracts will be notified by mid-June 2017. Following the acceptance of their abstracts, authors should be prepared to submit a draft final paper to the symposium organizers by mid-November 2017.

Following the symposium, IIAS will select the best final papers for publication in an edited volume.

Financial support

IIAS will cover (partial) travel costs to Surabaya of authors of accepted abstracts, in addition to hotel accommodation during the dates of the symposium and (if necessary) reimbursement of visa costs.


For further information and questions, please contact Ms. Xiaolan Lin of the UKNA Secretariat at IIAS, at:

Image: Balikpapan, Kalimantan Timur, Indonesia © sukarmin