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Cities as Instruments of Human Security: Transitions in Urban Water Systems and Public Water


This dissertation examines the role that cities can play in human security with particular

emphasis on urban water systems. Global environmental change and shifting

geopolitical alliances are increasing the vulnerability of individuals and communities. In

the absence of enforced human rights protections at international and national levels,

cities have agency to ensure that urban spaces are contributing to human security,

ensuring that basic needs of individuals are prioritized including water, food, and

shelter, as well as medical and legal attention. However, urban water systems, as the

literal lifeblood of cities, are the focus of this research.

Urban water systems across the globe are transitioning, undergoing fundamental

change. This study first examines transition in two particular cities, in order to

understand the conditions, barriers and opportunities of change. A human security

analysis follows, drawing on these findings as well as that of a third city. Made up of

three discrete papers, the first two articles are case studies in which the evolution of the urban water system as well as its current and future transitions are constructed through

participant observation and interviews with primary actors within each city, including

Athens, Greece and Los Angeles, U.S. In the third paper, these findings as well as

research in Istanbul, Turkey are garnered to inform a human security analysis of urban

water systems, especially those in the semi-arid Mediterranean climate region.

While each city has a unique profile with distinct social, economic, political and

environmental characteristics, some drivers of change are unsurprisingly shared

including global environmental change and aging infrastructure. Findings however

reveal another shared vulnerability with deep human security implications: rising

numbers of urban inhabitants that are without permanent housing. And while the drivers

of homelessness vary across and within the cities studied, there are shared connections

to global trends of income inequality, climate change and political instability. Analysis

reveals a lack of public water in the cities of interest, a particular concern in dry

Mediterranean and arid climates. Recommendations are made for re-introducing public

water into the modern city as an assertion of human security.

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