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Technical networks as instruments of sustainable flow management : a comparative analysis of infrastructure policy and planning in European urban regions

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This project is about changing current patterns of resource and energy use, as shaped by urban utility services for water, sewage, electricity and solid waste. In the past, strategies for minimising resource use and its environmental impact have focused on technological efficiency and innovation, state regulation, market incentives and information campaigns for consumers. The project acknowledges the significant progress already achieved by these strategies, but argues, on the basis of empirical analysis of obstacles and opportunities to achieving environmental policy objectives, how the ability to tap the huge potential of infrastructure networks to improve environmental quality will depend in future on understanding how infrastructure management is shaped by local context, actor logics and decision-making processes. This is particularly important today, when utility services across Europe are having to adapt to concurrent, yet often divergent, pressures of liberalisation, new environmental regulation, high infrastructure investments, competing technologies, limited government funding and growing public concern for service quality and costs. The results of this project take forward current international debates on sustainable urban development, material flow management, the liberalisation of utility services and the development of large infrastructure systems in the following ways: raising awareness of the untapped potential of urban infrastructure networks to improve environmental quality and contribute to sustainable urban and regional development; demonstrating how the management of material and energy flows is shaped by a wide range of environmental, political, commercial and social, as well as technological, factors and why they need to be understood in their specific local context; illustrating what new openings for environmental protection are being created out of the current reconfiguration of utility services (inter alia through liberalisation) and how these might best be exploited; evaluating how adaptable large infrastructure networks are proving to be in responding to multiple new pressures, with particular reference to the introduction of environmental technologies.

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