Bridging the water

Co create to learn & experience


Successful delivery of the Virtual Living Lab: Redesigning the Liesbeek river in Cape Town

During the Fall of this year, the team of OKP Bridging the Water has hosted a virtual living lab: ‘Redesigning the Liesbeek River in Cape Town’. During the living lab 30 students from 6 universities in the Netherlands and South Africa worked together in intercultural groups to find solutions on how to turn the Liesbeek canal back into a river. They presented their work in three interactive sessions.  

This living lab initiative is a collaboration of the University of Cape Town, TU Delft, the University of Applied Sciences Rotterdam, CEW Leeuwarden and the World Water Academy.

The Liesbeek river that flows through Cape Town has been heavily canalized throughout history. As a result, the liveability and appreciation of the river has changed. The students looked at the Liesbeek river case and analysed and observed in what way the canalized parts of the Liesbeek river could be improved and made more ‘liveable’. They identified problems like pollution, loss of public space, limited recreation and loss of biodiversity.

In the second session the students presented their collages on interventions to positively change the river. Interventions like rehabilitation, more meandering, water quality measuring and community farms were suggested. However, in order to implement solutions it is important to know which stakeholders are involved and which interests they have in the Liesbeek river.


In the final session we therefore welcomed a panel of stakeholders of the City of Cape Town and Friends of the Liesbeek river:
– Mr Andrew MacDonald: City of Cape Town’s roads and catchment department and stormwater division
– Mr Sabelo Memani: Manager of the Liesbeek River
– Mr Phil McLean: Chairperson of the Friends of the Liesbeek.


The students presented their final innovative solutions to improve the river to the panel. The main suggestions focussed on social integration, including the local community, use of indigenous plants to improve the ecology, use systems to catch the waste flowing through the river and create public spaces around the river for leisure activities. 

 We gratefully thank our panel members for their contribution and their feedback to the students.

Comments of the students after participating in the living lab:

·         “I see value in this Living lab, because of the good vibes and the discussions which help me develop as a researcher and person”

·         “I learned that change can be done no matter where in the world we are or what background we have. This living lab set the example for people and organizations to make a change even during such weird times”

·         “I learned how important it is to create plans that don’t only tackle current issues but that will last for up to 100 years. Also, during the plenary phase looking into post-implementation measures like maintenance is key for things to work and to be sustainable.”

Thank you to all that made this virtual living lab ‘Redesigning the Liesbeek River in Cape Town’ possible!

Bridging the Water is part of the Orange Knowledge Programme.