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VALUE SHIFTS: The rise of multifunctional infrastructure


This dissertation examines the influence of urban sustainability on urban infrastructure. Thinking and practice around urban sustainability advocate the integration of urban services, such as water supply and sanitation, with goals such as natural resource conservation, climate mitigation and adaptation. I reflect on these multifunctional ideas about infrastructure in terms of the contexts taking charge of urban sustainability as a concept as well as a practical design experiment.

Reflecting critically on the theory of urban sustainability, this dissertation shows how urban water infrastructure practices are critical in evolving conceptions about infrastructure. A history of urban water infrastructure specifically highlights the role of design experiments and evolving methods of practice revealed in urban sustainability ideas. The dissertation develops an ethnomethodology to examine the infrastructural methods behind urban infrastructure practice in Johannesburg, South Africa.

As in many other African contexts, in Johannesburg, the single biggest investment to sustain future development will be in urban water systems, given that future water services depend on increasingly fragile natural resources and a changing climate. Apartheid era legacies of inequality remain, manifesting in disparate access to essential services such as fresh water and sanitation. The familiar "service delivery" agenda of many African governments, intersects with rapid urbanization that overrides much of the infrastructure already in place, requiring even greater investments to meet new urban needs.

An ethnomethodology of infrastructure practice in Johannesburg informs my empirical assessment of responses to urban sustainability. I reveal the contexts that lie behind the scenes of the proverbial "end of the pipe" and that are essential in terms of the methods in use for activating urban sustainability. In light of the conceptual and practical trajectory of urban sustainability, this dissertation is part of a wider enquiry into how urban sustainability emerges in Johannesburg, compared to the global North, and into the practices that are available in each area.

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