Three paradigms to deal with urban water issues are compared. The analysis focuses on their definition and objectives, the role of different stakeholders, the issues they deal with, and the possible solutions suggested. The paradigms differ in scope (from the narrow focus of the sponge city paradigm to the broad goals of eco-city paradigm) and in terms of the governance structures used to coordinate different stakeholders. The smart and sponge paradigms mainly use existing government structures. In the eco-cities approach, the citizens want to be involved through newly created governance structures. Smart and eco-city initiatives emphasize the involvement of stakeholders, while in the sponge cities approach, the initiative is often taken by the local government. Finally, in terms of expected solutions, the paradigms want to create eco- or healthy cities or improve water management to create a more healthy urban environment. After identifying the issue, alternative water-related technologies are available, like generating energy from wastewater or separating grey and brown water. Cities require different governance structures, and managing information flows in an integrated way to solve water and other issues. The experience in Europe, China, and India may help other cities choose the right paradigm.

  • The eco, sponge, or smart cities approaches are three fundamental different paradigms to deal with water issues and to contribute to developing healthy cities.

  • Identify issue at stake, choose paradigm fitting best, and introduce new technological and governance options.

  • Modern technology can help to solve urban water issues smartly.

  • Governance structures, involving major stakeholders, are important to achieve sustainability.

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