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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Articulating the new urban water paradigm

Franco-Torres, Manuel; Rogers, Briony C.; Harder, Robin


Urban water systems in industrialized countries have underpinned unprecedented improvements in urban living standards through effective drinking water supply, sanitation and drainage. However, conventional urban water systems are increasingly regarded as too rigid and not sufficiently resilient to confront growing social, technological and environmental complexity and uncertainty, manifested, for example, in the maladaptation to climate change, depletion of nonrenewable resources, and degrading urban livability. In response, a new urban water paradigm has emerged in the last two decades within the context of a broader societal change that promotes a more organic worldview over the classical mechanistic and technocratic understanding of reality. This article develops and applies an analytical framework to coherently describe the new paradigm and contrast it with the old urban water paradigm. The framework includes a philosophical foundation and set of methodological principles that shape the new paradigm's approach to governance, management, and infrastructure.


Paradigm shift; new water paradigm; integrated urban water management; sustainable urban water management; water sensitive urban design; complexity

Published in

Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology
2021, volume: 51, number: 23, pages: 2777-2823

Authors' information

Franco-Torres, Manuel
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Rogers, Briony C.
Monash University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Energy and Technology

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG6 Clean water
SDG11 Sustainable cities and communities

UKÄ Subject classification

Environmental Sciences

Publication Identifiers


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