Governing climate change in cities: Insights from Surabaya’s water practices

Grantham Scholar Monica Martin Grau’s project aims to add to the literature on political ecology with insights from off-grid water practices in Surabaya.


After 3 decades of action on climate change, the role that cities play in enabling equitable development within planetary boundaries is the subject of complex interdisciplinary debate. Research has shown the limited capacity of national and local institutions to translate political commitments into comprehensive responses. As a result, there has been a proliferation of disconnected initiatives and non-governmental actors in the urban arena.

Many are frustrated by this, because they see it as institutional failure to control and coordinate the challenges humanity is facing. However, for others, the range of actors and initiatives is evidence that the fight against climate change is expanding.

The latter point of view moves the possibilities for action on climate change beyond an institutional account of governance. Instead, governing is seen as a dynamic and provisional process, one that implies the construction of certain narratives and their circulation. Additionally, postcolonial and critical perspectives on political ecology are trickling down into traditional urban planning. Here the argument is that progressive changes in the social and material fabrics of cities could foster fair and sustainable urban futures.


In light of calls from the IPCC and others international bodies for radical change to foster sustainable development, this project aims to feed the literature on political ecology. It will do so with insights from off-grid water practises. Specifically, it will explore how the actions of multiple stakeholders, in multiple sites, could transcend their small scale.

The mix of unplanned arrangements happening along Surabaya’s water supply system – theoretically called ‘socio-technical tinkering’– will provide a hands-on scenario. Here, as happens in many urban scenarios, authority to govern is highly contested and different non-state actors steadily modify urban infrastructures. As a result, this provides an opportunity to delve into processes of collective knowledge generation and knowledge navigation. Further, there is the opportunity to analyse capacity to achieve wider sustainable transformations.


This action-research methodology will answer 3 questions. 1. Which socio-technical tinkering practises are found across Surabaya’s water supply system? 2. Which impacts, in terms of sustainability and justice, are these practises having in the city? 3. What lessons can be extracted towards wider transformative solutions for fair and sustainable urban futures?

In answering the questions, this project will kickstart real-world transformations from within Surabaya’s water community. It will bring together stakeholders to reflect, discuss, and highlight ‘key enablers for sustainability’. Results will be shared through an open event and via different media.


You can find out more about Monica by watching Objetivo: comunidades y ciudades sostenibles.

Find Monica Martin Grau on social media

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And you can find her on LinkedIn.

Monica also has a website.


As first author:

Maroso, R. , Neder, Y., Martín, M., Gerretsen, S. (2019) Key considerations for integrated urban regeneration strategies. UK-FCO Global Future Cities Programme Working Papers. UN-Habitat, Nairobi.

As contributor:

Bosworth, B. (2019) Laying the foundations for transformative urban interventions in emerging economies. UK-FCO Global Future Cities Programme Normative Outcome1. UN-Habitat, Nairobi.

Scruggs, G., Mohn, C., Aguinaga, A. (2019) Addressing systemic barriers for achieving sustainable urbanisation in emerging economies. UK-FCO Global Future Cities Programme Normative Outcome 2. UN-Habitat, Nairobi.

Edilbi, B., Kalmakoff, J. (2019) Developing new public spaces in emerging economies. UK-FCO Global Future Cities Programme Working Papers. UN-Habitat, Nairobi.




Professor Liz Sharp

Department of Urban Studies and Planning