Changing without change? The entangle transition of the urban water sector in Denmark

Chiara Farné Fratini, Niki Frantzeskaki, Morten Elle, Marina Bergen Jensen, Peter Steen Mikkelsen

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/conference proceedingArticle in proceedingResearchpeer-review


In the last decade, due to climate change impacts, increasing urban development, increased stress on natural resource and gradual aging of the technical infrastructure on place, the Danish urban water sector has realized the need to invest more generously on the optimization of technical performances and the innovation of management approaches in favor of non-structural measure and more integrated perspectives. On one hand, municipal plans have put an increasing attention on terms like urban livability, resilience and sustainability mostly resulting on an increasing focus on the need to create green and blue recreational spaces in the city-scape. On the other hand, in a context of economic downturn, national strategies aim at promoting the eco-innovation of the water sectors to support the Danish water industry competitiveness in the international market and create new jobs nationally. At the same time, a series of institutional changes were actuated: in 2007, reforming local government structures and redistributing environmental policy planning responsibilities at the local and national scale and, in 2009, formalized a first step toward the liberalization of water utilities in order to regulate water prizes by creating a benchmarking system to set precise terms for a national competition on water service efficiency. The expectations were increased capacity for municipality to regulate and water utilities to actuate the necessary investments and lower or more homogenous water taxation for users. Such cascade of changes was expected to contribute to destabilize the Danish urban water regime, preparing for the acceleration phase of a radical socio-technical transition towards more integrated approaches to urban water management. However, using the MLP as analytical lens along a 100 years timespan, the urban water regime seems to have experienced a sequence of transformation pathways characterized primarily by the reorganization of regime actors, who appear to be very fast in responding to external pressures and thus favoring only incremental niches to emerge and stabilize. But, if the same transformations are placed in a co-evolving urban context, we observed that the water regime has largely contributed to radical changes at the urban scale. By undertaking such a broader perspective, we found increasingly relevant the role of power, politics and agency in advancing or hindering urban transitions. Furthermore, we found very useful the concept of multi-regime interactions to better characterize the influence of co-evolving regimes and the consideration of geographical and spatial scales to analyze the existing tensions between national strategies and municipal plans in a complex process of urban transformation. We concluded that the transition of the urban water regime is still ongoing and it will depends on the ability of internal, external actors and intermediaries to develop a shared and more holistic understanding and definition of problems and needs to co-create a path which could contribute to “better” urban futures.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication4th International Conference on Sustainability Transitions : Papers
PublisherEidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich
Publication dateJun 2013
Article number281
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013
Event4th International Conference on Sustainability Transitions - Zürich, Switzerland
Duration: 19 Jun 201321 Jun 2013
Conference number: 4


Conference4th International Conference on Sustainability Transitions
Internet address


  • multi-level perspective
  • system innovation
  • institutional reconfiguration
  • urban complexity
  • intermediaries
  • multi-regime interactions
  • marketization of public services

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  • Projects

    PhD Project on Integrated Management of Urban Water Systems

    Farné Fratini, C.


    Project: Research

    Cite this

    Farné Fratini, C., Frantzeskaki, N., Elle, M., Bergen Jensen, M., & Mikkelsen, P. S. (2013). Changing without change? The entangle transition of the urban water sector in Denmark. In 4th International Conference on Sustainability Transitions : Papers (pp. 364-386). [281] Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich .