Living with Water: Bringing Back Human-Water Relationships





In March 2023, thousands of people from various disciplines came together in New York for the United Nations 2023 Water Conference. The attendees included policymakers, activists, professionals and academics, all with an interest in the water sector. The conference provided a platform to share knowledge and exchange ideas about water-related challenges. Through a combination of in-house and side events, participants were provided with the opportunity to voice their concerns, engage in crucial discussions and exchange novel insights, despite the predominantly scripted nature of the event as a forum tailored for politicians and policymakers. The Water Conference identified risks ensuing from the number of short-term commitments, unclear funding and the lack of quantifiable measurements (President of the General Assembly 2023). The Water Conference also saw the adoption of the Water Action Agenda (United Nations 2023), consisting of voluntary commitments in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and focusing on water. Crafting these commitments posed a challenge, highlighting the complex nature of the United Nations’efforts in fostering collaboration among people representing diverse backgrounds, interests, cultures and histories.

How to Cite

Hein, C., Donkor, C., D’Agostino, M., Lin, Q., Sliwinska, Z., & Korpacka, J. (2023). Living with Water: Bringing Back Human-Water Relationships. Blue Papers, 2(2), 6–11.



Author Biographies

Carola Hein, Delft University of Technology

Carola Hein is Professor History of Architecture and Urban Planning at Delft University of Technology, Professor at Leiden and Erasmus University and UNESCO Chair Water, Ports and Historic Cities. She has published widely in the field of architectural, urban and planning history and has tied historical analysis to contemporary development. Among other major grants, she received a Guggenheim and an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship. Her recent books include: Oil Spaces (2021), Urbanisation of the Sea (2020), Adaptive Strategies for Water Heritage (2020), The Routledge Planning History Handbook (2018) and Port Cities: Dynamic Landscapes and Global Networks (2011).

Carlien Donkor, Delft University of Technology

Carlien Donkor is a researcher at Delft University of Technology. She is also affiliated with the LDE PortCityFutures Center and the UNESCO Chair for Water, Ports and Historic Cities. Carlien is trained as an architect with experience in design, construction, procurement and project management. Her master’s thesis focused on the subject of integrated urban water design and how factors including climate change and rapid urbanization pose a risk to the future design and planning of historical water cities like Milan. Other interests include volunteer work.

Matteo D’Agostino, Delft University of Technology

Matteo D’Agostino is a researcher at Delft University of Technology, a member of the PortCityFutures research group, and is affiliated with the UNESCO Chair for Water, Ports and Historic Cities. Matteo is a cultural anthropologist experienced in the analysis of perceptions and relational dynamics between public and private actors. His research focuses on understanding multiple structural, spatial and socio-economic factors as the basis for spatial planning and social interventions. Other interests include policy implementation for granting access to basic resources, such as water, and strategic reinterpretation of heritage by institutional and activist organizations.

Queenie Lin, Delft University of Technology

Queenie Lin is a PhD candidate in the History of Architecture and Urban Planning, Delft University of Technology, with a research focus on the sustainable preservation of climate-challenged Dutch overseas settlements in VOC Asia. She is currently working under the UNESCO Chair Water, Ports and Historic Cities and the PortCityFutures research group. She was also a PhD candidate in Cultural Heritage and Arts Innovation Studies, Taipei National University of the Arts, and her previous MA training in art and architectural history (University of Virginia, USA), conservation of fine art (Northumbria University, UK), and underwater cultural heritage certificate (UNESCO Foundation Course), has equipped her for professional experience in academia, museums, research institutes and thinktanks in Asia, America and Europe.

Zuzanna Sliwinska, Delft University of Technology

Zuzanna Sliwinska is an architectural designer and researcher with a master’s degree (cum laude) from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, with previous academic experience at Westminster University in London and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Her research explores the potential of loss as a method aiding the adaptation of rural communities and their persistence within dynamically evolving contexts in Asian cities, with regard to local cultural heritage and ecology. Her previous professional experience involves large-scale urban projects in the Middle East, focused on regional development.

Julia Korpacka, Delft University of Technology

Julia Korpacka recently graduated from TU Delft with a master’s (hons) in Architecture, Urbanism and Built Environment, having received a cum laude distinction. She previously studied in the UK (BSc, University of Bath) and France (ENSAL), and worked in international architecture offices in London and Berlin. Her honors research explored how different perceptions and political interests influence the participatory processes around the redevelopment of the former shipyard area in Gdansk, Poland. Her master’s thesis proposed the adaptive reuse of a 1970s courthouse in Antwerp, Belgium, for an archive of contemporary art. Other interests include political critique in spatial and architectural contexts, urban geography, feminist pedagogy, writing and the adaptive reuse of existing buildings.


PortCityFutures. 2023a. UN Side Event March 2023: UN of Rivers. Accessed July 12, 2023. https://www.portcityfutures.


PortCityFutures. 2023b. UN Side Event March 2023: Water and Heritage. Accessed July 12, 2023. https://www.

PortCityFutures. 2023c. Visual Analysis by Mark van Huystee. Accessed July 12, 2023. https://www.portcityfutures.


President of the General Assembly. 2023. Summary of Proceedings by the President of the General Assembly. United

Nations Conference on the Midterm Comprehensive Review of the Implementation of the Objectives of the International

Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development,” 2018–2028. Accessed October 15, 2023. https://

UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme. 2021. The United Nations World Water Development Report: Valuing

Water. Paris: UNESCO.

United Nations. 2023. Water Action Agenda.

Valuing Water Initiative. 2020. Valuing Water: A Conceptual Framework for Making Better Decisions Impacting Water,

Concept Note.


Valuing Water Initiative. 2022. First Global Survey of Water Values – Findings and Implications. Accessed October

, 2023.