After 15 years of practice and action in public space, and 15 years of rain and showers during these open air projects, we've learned one thing: let's embrace this long faught enemy.
Long live the rain and water in the city !
Five questions have shaped the project of EauPropre | ProperWater:
1. What is clean water ?
2. Where do we find clean water ?
3. How do we make water clean ?
4. To whom belongs (who has a right to) clean water ?
5. What is the price of clean water ?
EauPropre | ProperWater addressed these questions in public space and by doing and experimenting. In an attempt to turn rain, public space enemy number one, into an ally.
The link between cities and water is often taken for granted. Cities need water. Full stop. Historically, it is the reason why cities emerged near a water source. Now cities use water for health and hygiene, recreation and industry. But is it a one way relationship or can cities give something back to the water?
City Mine(d) believes they can. Cities are concentrations of people and resources, but also of ideas. And it is by tapping into those ideas that we can come up with new solutions to the challenges water confronts us with.
By bringing people together, in public space, and with a project as a focal point, City Mine(d) has been mining the intellectual resources of the city over the past 15 years. Projects start with a stimulating line of questioning, which translates into a physical intervention, the realisation of which leads to spin-off questions and answers. Answering the question is not the execution of a pre-set plan. It is a dynamic form of prototyping. Ideas for objects or activities are raised, made and then tested to the point of breaking.
EauPropre | ProperWater is not different. Activities in the Maelbeek Valley in Brussels raised questions about water management, water purification and water infrastructure. “Can we short-cut/alleviate the work of water purification stations by producing our own drinking water in public space?” became the over-arching question.
This website recounts a 2 year journey from digging for own proper water to drinking rain water. In doing so it shares insights, but also very practical knowledge about filtering water, as well as objects that will be available (also for others) to use like the ProperWaterPavilion, the Pacco-test or the City Mine(d) TAP.
Although “we” in most parts of this website refers to the platform City Mine(d), many individuals and collectives played a crucial part. PUM (Projet Urbain Maelbeek) and EGEB (les États Généraux de l’Eau à Bruxelles) are described here, because they illustrate the crucial role of social relations in interventions in public space. Social relations are the fabric that makes an intervention possible, and often they are what lasts when the physical intervention is long decomposed into its constituting parts.
where it al started
On a derelict piece of land, in the shadow of the European parliament building and on top of what used to be the bed of the Maelbeek river, a group of people met in 2011. Initiated by City Mine(d), they went in search for ways to re-imagine the rigid, concrete European neighbourhood with its office block and hermetic meeting rooms as a living piece of the city. Ideas for small interventions and micro-projects were put together and found a base in what is now called the Friche Eggevoort (Friche meaning fringe or fallow).
Because of stories of nearby water wells, water mills and a hydraulic machine that once stood in the area, floods, recent large infrastructure works and a buried river, water was very prominent in everybody’s mind. However, the obvious theme turned out to be invisible in the urban landscape.
Projects and collaborations that emerged on the Friche Eggevoort, took shape around the idea to give water back its central place in the neighbourhood. The Friche Eggevoort itself was turned into a water garden, along with local networks (EGEB and PUM) an open and collective water point was conceived.
It was a way to create a space where people could come together, inspired by the central role the water well or pump played in traditional communities. This public water point as space for meeting, debate and exchange that would mimic the role of the water well in old villages as a place to catch up with the latest news or make announcements. A place to encounter new ideas and to be confronted with differing opinions. Because they create space for debate around settled ideas, they play a crucial part in a democratic society.
Questions like what the space would look like, functions it should have, use of the water, whether we should have to purify it in order to obtain a better water quality, became the starting point of a two year long open and collective process.
Collectively imagining such a place and creating a “machine” in urban public space brought together a wide variety of networks of residents, technicians, tinkerers, civil servants, water searchers, artists, historians, scientists and those just curious. Meanwhile it allowed us to question our relationship with water and to discuss both local and global challenges, common good and pollution.
Finally the collective design effort of a water point also provided an opportunity to de-mystify the technical-scientific aspects of water-management, which can be both very inspiring and emancipating.»
original article published in: Bridges over troubled waters, Crosstalks, VUB press, Brussels 2012, p223-231- "L'eau comme bien commun à Bruxelles", Dominique Nalpas & François Lebecq
The era in which we are living seems to leave us ever more fascinated with technology, this great human endeavor that has the power to free us from the yoke of nature or that makes human beings an extension of the creator. And yet, with water, we seem to maintain an astonishing relationship: we project on water a desire, an ideal of purity and natural virginity far removed from technical complications and other social contamination. We could be tempted to say, “Cover these impure waters so that we may not see them,” to paraphrase the famous repost of Tartuffe to Dorine. In reality, the clear, pure water that apparently arrives so naturally and drinkable in the heart of the city only comes at the cost of increasingly sophisticated and expensive technology. Water is a hairy1 object that is tightly woven into social, environmental, economic, and political complexity.
In fact, water has been invisible in our city for a long time. It is a black stain on our urban development policy, repulsed by our imaginations and our concerns as citizens. And like many other elements that we don’t want to see realistically, it risks resurfacing, like the return of the repulsed, to manifest itself ever more painfully from crisis to crisis. Which is why the headlong rush towards more technology – in the name of progress – resolves some questions while posing more, and never exhausts the need to render the management of this precious resource more visible and more conscious, therefore more collective, more common... Let’s say it another way: technology and society can only exist in a complex combination of integrated interdependence. Water, like climate, is a fact of nature, but also a social, economic and political fact that merits better understanding if we wish to keep it as a common good.»
Article by Michel Bastin
Below excerpts of some newspaper articles.»
In an attempt to turn rain, public space enemy number one, into an ally, a temporary structure was imagined that with a funnel roof would capture rain water which would then be made fit for human consumption. It would prove the ideal catalyst for a series of discussion, debates, exchanges, the creation of artefacts and spin-off projects that carry on beyond the initial project.»
Eau Propre | Proper Water
by City Mine(d)
is licensed under a Creative Commons
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