Adapting housing and water sector infrastructure to population dynamics

Faure, Julie Charlotte
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In a world increasingly urban and subject to large and sudden population displacements—resulting from factors such as political instabilities, urban mobility, or disasters—understanding interdependencies between infrastructure and population dynamics is critical for decision-makers to be able to face challenges in the near future. To help provide such an understanding, this dissertation addresses two complimentary aspects of population dynamics in urban environments of developed countries and their impacts on the housing and water sector infrastructure. On the one hand, this dissertation analyzes the institutional response of the housing and water sector to influxes of displaced persons during the European Refugee Crisis of 2015 and 2016. Semi-structured interviews of 52 German stakeholders were conducted and qualitatively analyzed to understand decision-making processes during this period of emergency. On the other hand, hydraulic simulations of the effects of population dynamics occurring during gentrification were performed to determine the relative criticality of changes in socio-economic statuses versus changes in population density. Arising from the results are the following recommendations to decision-makers of the housing and water infrastructure sector when facing large and rapid population dynamics: (1) Develop new and unusual collaborations. The interviews conducted in Germany revealed that large-scale in-person meetings between all organizations involved (e.g., firemen, governmental agencies, non-profits) were critical to effective responses to the Refugee Crisis. (2) Seek accurate information about the type of population dynamics. In the case of gentrification, it is critical to quantify the fluxes of populations, and to assess sociodemographic characteristics of populations involved. In cities such as Washington, DC, overlooking sociodemographic characteristics can hinder the ability of utilities to provide adequate water services. In the case of the Refugee Crisis, making uninformed assumptions about displaced persons’ habits and needs can lead to poor decision-making. (3) Use moments of crisis as an opportunity to improve institutional resilience. This dissertation shows that, during crises, most stakeholders can be enthusiastic about committing to responding to such event, regardless of their political opinion. However, results indicate that these efforts should be monitored and continued in the long-term to enhance the ability of institutions to react to future crises.