River Cities: Water Space in Urban Development and History

Symposium dates: 11-12 December 2017

Venue: Airlangga University, Surabaya, Indonesia   

Organisation: Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA); IIAS; Airlangga University.

Conveners: Dr Paul Rabé (IIAS); Adrian Perkasa (MA; Universitas Airlangga), and Dr Rita Padawangi (Singapore University of Social Sciences)

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 formaliszation 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 will be presented 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


A complete program information is available here or download the attachment below. For further information and questions, please contact Ms. Xiaolan Lin of the UKNA Secretariat at IIAS, at:

Image: Balikpapan, Kalimantan Timur, Indonesia © sukarmin