Valuing and valuating pipes: Patrimonial turn and new interdependencies between roads services and urban technical networks

By Jérôme Denis, Daniel Florentin

In many local authorities, water and energy networks are enshrined in larger departments in charge of road and highways. One such organisation reveals an interdependence between the surface and the underground, and fleshes out forms of asymmetric coordination where the roads and highways services are influencing and setting the public works agendas, regardless of the specific need of urban technical networks. This hierarchy of the different services emphasises the “political sensitivity” of the urban roads, which are an urban surface experienced by everyone on a daily basis.
Drawing on a qualitative 18-month survey in various French territories, this article shows that this hegemony of roads and highways departments in the organisation of public works has been challenged over the last decade by a threefold process. It combines the increasing development of specific and ambitious policies of “gestion patrimoniale” (asset management) for the urban technical networks; the ecological transformation of some urban planning practices; and a higher budgetary constraint on local finances. This threefold process contributes to a form of “patrimoine” turn (including maintenance, heritage and legacy dimensions), which is reassembling interdependencies between various urban technical infrastructures. It translates into new ways to make water and sanitation networks matter and to value them vis-à-vis roads and highways.

  • water networks
  • patrimonial turn
  • road services
  • interdependencies
  • maintenance
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