URBWATER - Vienna´s Urban Waterscape 1683-1918. An environmental History

Web contribution of: 

The interdisciplinary project URBWATER investigates fundamental changes of Vienna’s waterscape from 1683-1918 and analyzes the influence of the dynamic aquatic environment for Vienna’s urban development. While the Danube and the adjacent riparian area have been reconstructed back to 1529 in the precursor project ENVIEDAN, the environmental history of its tributary system remains largely unknown.

We have developed three hypotheses. (1) Different natural conditions of the urban waterscape resulted in distinct spatial adaptations of water uses. (2) The system of tributaries, hitherto almost totally neglected by historians of Vienna, played a pivotal role for city development. (3) Urban development was fundamentally influenced by both contemporary and older arrangements of water use which were often resistant to human intervention. We also assume that fundamental changes progressed in multiple steps and likely happened in a non-linear way.

To test our hypotheses, we will study how changes in Vienna’s waterscape, particularly in the urban and peri-urban area west of the Danube, affected urban water use. We shall investigate modifications of resource demand and extraction technology which translated into different uses of the waterscape and affected it during the city’s transformation from a 17th century pre-modern fortified seat of the imperial court to the early 20th century industrialized capital of a by then much smaller territory. Simultaneously, Vienna’s population increased from less than 200.000 to about 2 Mio. inhabitants. To prove our assumptions, we shall study the long-term evolution of natural and social phenomena and the multiple feedback loops, unintended long-term consequences and legacies of prior uses. The study period starts with the Ottoman siege in 1683 and follows developments throughout the most dynamic phase of urban growth between 1850 and 1918.

Understanding why and how a network of watercourses used in multiple ways was transformed into a predominantly subterranean set of channelled and vaulted flows is crucial to an understanding of urban spatial development and of the fundamentally changed interaction of urban actors with a dynamic, natural system.

A unique, regressive-iterative approach to reconstructing historical landscapes using geographical information systems (GIS) has been developed in ENVIEDAN and will be applied and further refined.

URBWATER is organized into 5 work-packages (WP). All work-packages are based on the concept of socio-natural sites as nexus between practices and arrangements and the conceptual interaction model developed in ENVIEDAN. Interdisciplinary co-operation is ensured by three means, via joint use of sources, shared concepts and a designed communication process.

Expected results: 

URBWATER will yield a time series of GIS-based maps of the urban waterscape. They are based on the detailed reconstruction of hydromorphological evolution and on a spatially explicit reconstruction of the built environment. Results will be published in high-ranking journals and a synthetic book

Contribution to Danube Region: 

URBWATER is a long-term in-depth investigation of an urban water network in a major metropolis. It provides insights into the history of river use, conflicts, regulation, pollution and into water provision and sewerage, therefore, it offrs baseline information for urban sustainability questions.

October, 2013 to January, 2016