Rivers and Community Engagement. Regulatory Frameworks and Practices in Europe and USA.

Author(s): Pappalardo, G.

Environmental regeneration is not just a matter of natural science. Laypersons, different stakeholders, associations such as NGOs are crucial actors in managing ecosystems, at the grassroots level as well as at the institutional level. Gunderson, Holland et al (1995) describe the relationship between human organizational structures and nature, underlying how Sustainable Development is a process related to Social Learning. Even if the expressions Sustainable Development and Social Learning may have ambiguous meanings related to every different context, it is possible to find some similar issues at the global scale. The U.N. Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992) and its updated version Rio+20 show an arising awareness about the crucial role of local communities in taking care of the environment. Moreover, the Nobel Prize in Economic Science Elinor Ostrom (1991) proves the importance of collaborative practices and institutional reframing in order to overcome the Tragedy of the Commons (Hardin 1968).

This paper is aimed at describing and characterizing the process of Community Engagement in watershed management in Europe and USA. First, a critical review of the regulatory frameworks is examined, in order to explain similarities and differences between these two contexts. In Europe, the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (1998) is a milestone on the topic; then, the European Landscape Convention (2000) explains the strong relationship among physical heritage, cultural dimensions and inhabitants' perceptions. Furthermore, the specific Directive in matter of Water (2000/60/EC) is based on the same principles, i.e. broad involvement of the general public and different stakeholders, with different knowledge, values, interests and future perspectives. In U.S.A. the Environmental Protection Agency, with the Clean Water Act (1972) and 40 years of implementation phases, is moving the discussion toward a broader dissemination of participatory practices (Sirianni 2006).

After a comparative analysis of the aforementioned regulations, a multiple case-study research is discussed in order to understand in practice what is engagement, how is it related to watershed management, which are different paradigms and types of community involvement. The cases are selected according to the following characteristics: engagement as an opportunity to define a common vision for the future, starting from history and values of every context; engagement as a way to promote education and responsible behaviors in managing the water; engagement as a moment of dialogue amongst all community members. The outcome of the research is a typology that may operate as a guide in organizing communities that wish to manage ecosystems in a proactive and adaptive way.
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