Thursday, August 12, 2010

Water and the rest

This week, I was able to talk to a colorful collection of people: an old kolkhoz chair, people at the regional planning administration, at regional water management. At the last site, our host was highly animated, at times patiently explaining the details of Soviet and post- Soviet irrigation design, at times yelling because we were not familiar with these details.

Something that interests me is the relation between Soviet planning for water, and planning for all the rest, each falling under a different ministry, each with an intricate web of subsidiary and associated organizations. Much can be boiled down to a simple question: What comes first, the water design or the design of the settlement? The planning system was supposedly highly integrated, taking care of everything, but in practice, other ministries, in this case the water ministry, could take over in whole regions. Still, at the local level, the kolkhoz level, this subversion could be subverted again, and everything could be organized around the settlement, and the desires of its inhabitants. The larger canals would be there, but other than that, almost anything could become flexible. The power of different roles in the kolkhoz could vary, the relations with the district and regional planners, the water organizations.

A practice that was apparently very common in the old days, was retrofitting: something changed, a new road, canal, neighborhood, and it was neatly reinterpreted as part of the original plan. The myth of scientific planning and of central steering power could be maintained like that. We should probably add that many European countries do the same thing, now.

[Thursday, in Ashirmat, an experience: during the meeting, an exchange of vodka and questions developed. For each shot, I could ask a question. Luckily, this happened towards the end of the conversation, so I escaped more or less healthy.]

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