Joe Dignan
Joe Dignan (Associate VP, European Head, IDC Government Insights)
Louisa Barker
Louisa Barker (Research Manager, IDC Government Insights)

Many cities owe their existence to the proximity of a river but in recent times we have separated the development of a river from the built environment of the city. We have an opportunity to maximize the river asset and add value through what we have learned in the smart city arena and leveraging rapidly maturing technology such as digital twins, AI, Edge and IoT for both the natural and built environment.

Early peoples settled by rivers because they were a source of water, food, trade, irrigation, transportation, recreation, access and egress. They were so valuable that fortifications were built to control access, and these grew into Major Cities. The identity of a city is linked to its river, and it is difficult to imagine cities such as London without the Thames, Paris without the Seine and the river Moscow gave the city its name.

Today, new regeneration activity often starts with riverside property that soon becomes the most valuable in a city.

With the industrial revolution and increases in population, river pollution rose to the point where many inner-city rivers were dead. A number of factors are aligning to bring those rivers back to life.

Firstly, environmental awareness is rising.

Secondly, heavy industry has or is moving out of cities and thirdly, as cities become more congested, alternative means of transport are being sought and lastly, we now have the technology to better understand, monitor and improve a river.

London has changed dramatically in the last 30 years and in that incredibly short space of time the Thames has come back from the dead. It now has fish, turtles and dolphins. Well, the odd dolphin and turtle that probably lost their satnav but at least they did not gag and die on entering the Thames.

At a global level It is already happening.

The Namami Gange project is a major $9Billion initiative undertaken by the Indian government to rejuvenate and clean the Ganga River, one of the most sacred and culturally significant rivers in India. The project was launched in 2015 as a comprehensive approach to restore and protect the Ganga River and its tributaries. The Namami Gange project is a multi-disciplinary effort that involves collaboration between various government ministries, departments, and agencies at the central and state levels. Its long-term vision is to ensure the ecological and cultural integrity of the Ganga River, benefitting millions of people who rely on the river for their livelihoods and spiritual practices.

When we looked at what they were doing, it was a linear version of what we are trying to do in smart cities. Instrumenting the river to monitor, measure, predict and effect change across 2500 kilometres of the country.

The Ganges programme is still ongoing and can be seen as the ‘Everest’ of current Smart River Projects. An earlier project, the Cheonggyecheon River project in South Korea, was a significant urban renewal and restoration project that aimed to revive and transform the Cheonggyecheon River, a historic polluted waterway that had been covered by a highway.

The project, which was completed in 2005, achieved several notable outcomes around environmental restoration, improved water management and enhanced urban aesthetics, increased connectivity and economic growth.

Climate change is accelerating interest in more effective water management and the adoption of the UN’s Strategic Development Goals. “The establishment of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” confirms the importance of water and sanitation in the global political agenda. SDG 6 addresses the sustainability of water and sanitation access by focusing on the environmental aspects of freshwater ecosystems and resources – including their qualityavailability and management.”

River usage can also cause international conflict. The land between the Tigris and Euphrates is where cities arguably began and the damming and gravel mining of the river in Turkey is changing the flow of the water that is critical to the city of Bagdad and the wider Iraq economy.

The same can be said of the Nile that flows through or along the border of eleven African countries. Many of the potential areas of conflict such as water removal, pollution, mining and flooding could be ameliorated through using technology to build a better understanding of a river. Through instrumenting it with sensors and connecting the information produced to digital twins to make the information accessible and allowing for scenario planning and predictive interventions.

We have developed an IDC Market Perspective Report that looks at policy and governance issues and gone into more detail on how technology such as digital twins, sensors, data, AI, 5G, edge, cloud and social media can be used in this arena, click here to find out more.

We will be researching deeper into the subject of River Cities and also the wider subject of Smart Rivers and would be keen to hear about case studies globally.

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