A discussion of the social dimension of ecological objects.
The research of Bas van Vliet and Gert Spaargaren (Wageningen University), Sense and Sanitation (2010), concludes that the objects of ecological infrastructure (windmills, solar panels, vacuum sewer, rainwater collectors, reed beds, waterponds, trees) have by now become crucial elements in the spatial design of cities and neighborhoods, as urban planners and architects use these environmental technologies to enhance the quality of life for citizen-consumers. The aforementioned ecological objects can be used by the citizens for identity in the way that cars, furniture and paintings are displayed. The visibility of utility infrastructures increases their own tangibility, enjoyability, and usability.
The physicality of water, solid waste, wastewater and energy flows offers ample opportunities for both direct and indirect re-sensitization. Flows can be made visual and tangible by opening up formerly hidden infrastructure (sewer pipes, off-site wastewater treatment, distant coal power plants) as it is being done in eco-neighborhoods. With decentralization of production, infrastructure hardware re-enters the domains of households and neighborhoods. Visible solar panels partly replace the abstract central electricity production units, just as decentralized water treatment systems do for the central sewer and waste water treatment systems. In some cases pipes and cables are deliberately brought back and visualized in public space for aesthetic reasons. Especially in the water sector, pieces of infrastructure are highlighted with the help of information panels informing to tell the public about the functioning of the drinking water or sanitation system. An important step is separating the wastewater stream so stormwater and grey water can be collected in open ditches and reed bed filters while true sewerage is piped to the resource recovery system.
In an indirect form, the urban flows can be visualized by innovative metering and billing schemes managed by the local energy company. Meters and displays (smart grid) visualize physical flows of water and energy in cubic meters and kilowatt hours and/or in monetary units. Billing devices visualize the financial flows attached to resource use and generation; showing 3-year average consumption and production; and comparing individual consumption levels to average consumption in the neighborhood.