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What´s up with water: Pouring water into your corporate strategy (XIV) Water and Cities

Have a beautiful rainy solstice day in June for those who live in the tropics. For those who are experiencing the beginning of the elevated summer solstice temperatures, please acknowledge that every sweating of yours is evidence of your inner perspiration cycle, a thermostat sign of how humans have been affecting the water cycle with our endeavors. Before proceeding further, we have an assignment for you: Please read chapter number 27 “Urban Systems” of the report that you find in this URL: . We encourage you to download it, and read its 31 pages, as part of your reading lifestyle for this week.  The information of this assessment is not out of date. Humans have not changed this situation during the last 20 years, on the contrary, Eleonora Escalante Strategy believes the situation of our water status is worst nowadays. Why? Because we have depleted and polluted our world during all these years. Therefore, this reading assignment will set your brains for our strategic reflection of today.

Let´s begin with our reinforcement slides. We always provide the download button below, so you can use these pages printed, meanwhile reading and understanding our material afterward.

Our “out of all proportion” design of urban cities is causing an imbalance in the world. It is also destroying our freshwater ecosystems (including groundwater). Our conceptual view of living in terms of urbanization and city design was not well-conceived a long time ago. It is time to rethink new conceptual manners of community living and gathering. Metropolitan settlements, capitals, and cities are creating a disbalance in the water cycle. Why? Not only because of demographics and economic catalysts as it is usually the answer. Indeed, this is the superficial apparent reason that everyone regard as precise. The issue here is not that we are overpopulating the planet, the issue is that we all have migrated to the cities, causing a disbalance in water supply, wastewater systems, and the global water cycle. This way of human-dwelling living is the most harmful in our history because it causes a deficient distribution of the families in such tiny extensions of urban land; meanwhile, the rest of the rural regions are experiencing or are near to undergoing “land abandonment”. Let´s understand that overcrowded cities including the suburbs. These settlements have been the immaculate expression and evidence of middle-class growth. But sadly, these have not been well planned in relation to the water cycle, “but are often part of the urban sprawl”(1). The multidimensional issues of water (linked to ecosystem services) in the cities and suburban regions around them have expanded because of the augmentation of human needs and wants.

Cities are overcrowded, not just because of organic reasons, but because of migrations from other places, or from the national rural set-ups. No one wants to live where there aren´t resources for a good quality of living. In consequence, when cities attract the rural populations, what urban societies gain in troubles that affect the water cycle and climate change, is what the rural societies lose.  

Once humans began to measure the usage of land and its resources in terms of business and economics only, our society began to lose the integral perspective of the water. Even though ecosystem services have been delineated accordingly (2), there is a lack of proper measurement considering the aspects of biodiversity and the connection of the water cycle in every single aspect of its circularity.  Usually, water scientists only measure the water in cities from the point of view of hydrological-hydraulic impact, but do not consider the whole global water cycle explanation. As a result, when cities grow in infrastructure, particularly covering the land with cement and concrete, humans are altering the filtering of the precipitations to the groundwater. With our air and ocean pollution, we are contaminating our clouds, our rain, and the inland water supply. The recharging and filtering of the groundwater are not happening in the global water cycle. If at least these basic ideas would have been considered 100 years ago when the basics of business and cities started, we wouldn´t have approached our cities’ growth design in the way it has been undertaken. Our present and future water troubles are the consequences of not considering integral value propositions since the first industrial revolution.

Additional appropriate terms are required when analyzing water and cities.  When approaching the subject of water and cities, we immediately disembark into the following topics: urban growth, suburban expansion, highways, infrastructure public services development, land use, type of urbanizations, population density,  land use cover change, environmental footprint, net primary production of urban communities, ecological protection of the land, water yield change, water supply for the populations, public and private investing, habitat construction, soil conservation, energy making, growing population, wastewater management systems, etc. So when we deal with the subject of “Water and cities”, we can´t escape from the domains of urban development. Do you mind reading again this paragraph? What is missing if we want to add the integral factor? The answer: The water cycle.

Urban development as it has happened during the last 100 years has triggered a dangerous distribution of the land. When populations left their rural, coastal, mountainous (highlands),  or countryside cultivated production of the land and forests; these baby-boomer residents and subsequent kids (generation X, then Millennials) never returned back. They left their grandparents’ or parents’ homes, culture, art, traditions, and little by little the whole value chain of productivity stores (bakeries, pharmacies, restaurants, hotels, local schools, services or provisions of supplies, and local markets) in the hands no one. Once our grandparents passed away, their states and businesses disappeared.  Millions of families all over the world (including China) have left their past rural villages with viable setups and shifted them by searching for the cities where they believed in the promise of becoming “middle-class” citizens. No one wanted to stay in their rural villages, because there were no 6 figures jobs, nor the promise of a better quality of life. Teens left searching for high-quality education and work opportunities. Families closed their future in their origin rural towns and established themselves in cities or mega metropolises.  This migration caused what is called “land abandonment” in the rural systems. And this is not new. It has happened after the first industrial revolution.

Water is all around us. In everything we do. Illustrative and non-commercial image. Photo Source: Microsoft Office Library.

Land abandonment of the rural areas. For example in Europe, the land abandonment is a fact that has been measured by the European Union (EU) recently (3). 13 out of 27 EU member states, or almost half of EU countries, have around 50% of their agricultural areas designated as moderate to high risk for abandonment. The countries with the highest levels of risk are Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, and Slovenia.  Likewise, in this recent EU report named “The challenge of land abandonment after 2020 and options for mitigating measures”, the term “land abandonment” refers to land that was previously used for crop or pasture/livestock grazing production, but does not have farming functions anymore (i.e. a total cessation of agricultural activities) and has not been converted into the forest or artificial areas either.  If you read the previous definition, the character of the “land abandonment” conceptualization only captures the “action of leaving the land farming unproductive”. There is no land use cover change. When land use cover change is zero,  means that there is no interaction between human activities and the natural ecological environment. This means rural land has no population. No one is living there, or a minimum amount of people stay (usually only the elders).  So there aren´t ecosystem services in these deserted places.  Please read what is the meaning of ecosystem services in slide number 3 above.  If land use cover change has come to zero in abandoned lands, is this good or safe for our water cycle? Contrary to what we think abandoned lands are creating more trouble for our loved water cycle in the city or urban dwellings. Why? Because when land is abandoned, that means the overcrowding of the cities and their suburban surroundings. This shift implies not just denser populations (the demography-economic factor), but it also implies the depletion and pollution of the sources of water supply in that place (inland water sources including groundwater). Look at slide number 4 for further explanation in detail.

The delicate balance between rural and urban is not occurring. We, as a global civilization, can´t continue under the same distribution of populations model and ecosystem services design. The flourishing and thriving prosperity of urban cities has happened at expense of the devastation and abandonment of the rural areas. So in reality, even the most developed nations are not really developed. What they hold is modern urban dwellings, meanwhile, the rest of the land is stranded. Once humans clogged cities, our precious water cycle is being affected. Examples of this trade-off are happening everywhere. Moreover, in Europe, there are certain countries in which the desertion of the rural lands and villages, is not only alarming but also appalling. We can also mention Spain, Italy, and China. There are islands in the Mediterranean that hold populations ages above 65 years old and more, some with less than 300 inhabitants. Rural villages without people are perishing, meanwhile, urban cities are also causing so many troubles to our water cycle.

Depletion and Pollution in urban high populated areas. We have chosen to stick to the Millenium Assessment report of 2005, not because things have not changed in the last 17 years since its publication, but because we certainly believe that many have changed for the worst. This report has segmented the land of the world into 10 different ecosystems: marine, coastal, inland water, forest, dryland mountain polar, cultivated and urban regions. According to this report, each of these ecosystems’ categories has rural and urban dwellings. Regardless of the type of settlement, the freshwater sources (particularly groundwater reservoirs), have been affected by human activities, much more in urban settings. The higher amount of contamination happens in cities and urban environments, where depletion of water sources, surface runoff,  and pollution are proportionally correlated with the number of habitants of those places (4). On average, and worldwide the ratio of the population urban to rural is 30:1 (measured in people/km2). The development of the rural communities is the unique solution that we have foreseen to this disbalance. If people find a good education and economic activity with decent retributions in their villages and rural settings, populations will stop migrating to urban cities.  Read the last three slides of our material above, please.

The problem is not in demographics, the problem is because of a bad design of human dwellings.  It is a lack of balance, a lack of good frameworks for fair and equilibrated rural vs urban development. When strategy frameworks don’t consider the water cycle, we end up living in disbalance. We will stop here. Let´s proceed with our musical segment.

Strategic Music Section:

Why did we choose Ray Chen? Currently, in his 30s, Mr. Chen is a prolific Taiwanese virtuoso that has been using social media to expand his taste for violin classical music. He plays the 1735 “Samazeuilh” Stradivarius violin on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation. You can read his biography here: We chose him to show you the importance of art competitions. No matter the age, contests in any type of artistic expression are crucial, because by winning them, you can initially begin to be noticed by those who are masters in the same field, and by those who might help you to rise (future investors, scholarships, specialized training, work opportunities, marketing sponsorships, etc). In the case of Chen, he participated and won two important violin contests: the Yehudi Menuhin (2008) and Queen Elizabeth (2009) Competitions, of which he was a First Prize winner. That opened doors for him not just locally but also internationally.  Win an art contest helps anyone (regardless of your economic upbringing) to hold the privilege of unlocking new doors. In many poor undeveloped economies, winning a contest is the only way we have to emerge from the invisibility. Ray Chen has earned the benefits of his opening trophies. Nevertheless, he is and will be demanded more excellence because of his awards. To win a prize means exigency for more, which undoubtedly requires more practice, more training, and innovation for new compositions with more elevated quality.

Songs of today belong to Sarah Chang. We share two interpretations of her South Korean talent. The first one is about her participation as a virtuoso explaining the rationale for playing the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor; and Brahms Violin Concerto in D major. Both pieces were played with Master Kurt Masur and the Dresdner Philharmonie in 2009. The second is a piece of the Prokofiev Violin Sonata No. 2 (4th mvt) & Paganini Cantabile.  Enjoy her music!

See you next Friday, with the 15th episode of “What´s up with water: Pouring water in your corporate strategy: When water kills”. We have removed the topic “Why is water so crucial for all”, because we already covered it in at least three past publications. So we will proceed with the next one “When water kills”. Thank you for reading to me.

“Violin Maya”. An aquarelle exercise by Eleonora Escalante 2019. I started to paint this artwork in Starbucks Los Proceres, San Salvador. Size: 48 cm x 68 cm

Sources of Reference utilized to prepare the slides and the material above:

  1. Tester, J.; Drake, E.; Driscoll, M.; Golay, M; and Peters, W. “ Sustainable Energy, Choosing among options”. Chapter 7: Energy, Water, and Land Use. The MIT Press (2012).
  2. The Millenium Assessment Report 2005. Chapters 1, and 20.
  4. Micklin, Philip. Man and the water cycle: challenges for the 21st century. Springer. GeoJournal, July 1996. Volume 39.

Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, most of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated. 

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