Overcoming Abundance: Social Capital and Managing Floods in Inner Melbourne during the Nineteenth Century

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Before effective drainage and flood protection systems were built in the early twentieth century, areas of inner Melbourne close to the Yarra River were prone to flooding. An overabundance of water and a need to limit its impact on lives, livelihoods, and the built environment drove changes in the engineered structure of a rapidly growing city. Through a case study of a working-class district, we consider how private citizens, drawing on stocks of social capital, responded to major floods in 1863 and 1891. In addition to the process of “top-down” governing, as revealed in public documents, less visible “bottom-up” pressure from local communities played an important role in influencing improvements in water-related infrastructure, such as flood mitigation works. By the turn of the twentieth century, this local pressure increasingly manifested in a centralist approach to water management, whereby metropolitan-wide public authorities took greater charge of local environmental problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33–49
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Urban History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • floods
  • water management
  • social capital
  • governance
  • housing
  • Melbourne
  • urban history

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