There is widespread international acceptance that climate change, demographic shifts and resource limitations impact on the performance of water servicing in cities. In response to these challenges, many scholars propose that a fundamental move away from traditional centralised infrastructure towards more integrated water management is required. However, there is limited practical or scholarly understanding of how to enable this change in practice and few modern cities have done so successfully. This paper addresses this gap by analysing empirical evidence of Melbourne's recent experience in shifting towards a hybrid of centralised and decentralised infrastructure to draw lessons about the institutional context that enabled this shift. The research was based on a qualitative single-case study, involving interviews and envisioning workshops with urban water practitioners who have been directly involved in Melbourne's water system changes. It was found that significant changes occurred in the cultural-cognitive, normative and regulative dimensions of Melbourne's water system. These included a shift in cultural beliefs for the water profession, new knowledge through evidence and learning, additional water servicing goals and priorities, political leadership, community pressure, better coordinated governance arrangements and strong market mechanisms. The paper synthesises lessons from the case study that, with further development, could form the basis of prescriptive guidance for enabling the shift to new modes of water servicing to support more liveable, sustainable and resilient outcomes for future cities.
Keywords: Decentralised infrastructure; Enabling context; Institutions; Integrated water management; Liveability; Social research; Transitions; Urban water; Vision.
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