#enduringcity - Design with nature, not against it

Climate change is a global phenomenon that has significant impacts on urban life: sea levels are rising and extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and storms are increasing. Ultimately, all of this will have costly impacts on cities' basic services, infrastructure, housing, livelihoods and health [source: UNEP]. The traditional approach to these kinds of threats is hardcore engineering; to beat back or retain the water with iron and concrete. However, the magnitude of the current challenges calls for an adaptive approach in order to contribute to resilient cities.

Flexible, versatile and nature-based designs integrated in the public realm – those should form the basis of new adaptation strategies. Cities are building more and more infrastructure to cope with climate change, and in this process it is important to look beyond short-term protection. As discussed in the previous blog, they need to consider the long-term effects on communities, their economies and their relationships with water. The uncertainties of future climate change and population growth mean that cities must build flexible protection systems. And to go one step further; cities must learn to give space to water instead of trying to push it back.

The floating city: be flexible with water

A good example of a flexible adaptation strategy that leaves space for water is the design for a floating city on the Grote Rug water reservoir in Dordrecht. The neighborhood Grote Rug moves with the tides of the Wantij River and simply rises during floods, keeping the district functional and safe regardless of the water level. At the same time, it serves as an evacuation destination for refugees from flooded inner-dike parts of Dordrecht. The design shows that a new district can move flexibly with a changing water level instead of rigidly keeping the water out. In addition, the district distinguishes itself from other water districts due to its high density and the presence of facilities and public spaces on the water. The design concept of the floating city is currently being further researched, which will result in a handbook with practical guidelines for sustainable urban development on the water. Extra attention is paid to spatial quality, ecology and technical and financial feasibility.

The versatile public spaces of Slachthuissite

Another example of a high-density neighborhood that leaves room for greenery and water, without making concessions to facilities and public spaces, is the Slachthuissite in Antwerp. The design for a four-hectare green public space binds together the new and existing parts of the district and is filled with green play, sports and meeting spaces. A water study investigated what is needed to sustainably collect rainwater in and around the neighborhood, reuse it and allow it to penetrate into the soil in order to overcome both flooding and drought. The versatile designed sub-spaces Kalverpad and the Hallentuin are of great importance in the water concept. The collected rainwater in the Kalverpad offers adventurous water-rich play areas for children, and in the Hallentuin the collected water forms a peaceful water garden for local residents and students.

The naturalized river of Bishan Park

One city ahead of its time with urban design based on nature is Singapore: the city has developed over 7,800 acres of natural areas, gardens and parks over the past few decades and is now one of the greenest cities in the world. An inspiring example is the design of Bishan Park by Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl. The plan increases the capacity of the Kallang River by transforming the utilitarian concrete canal into a naturalized river, creating a new urban riverine park. In this way, the nature-based design meets the dual needs for water supply and flood management and creates a valuable green space in the city for humans and animals.

© Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl

Integrated Parque Lineal La Viga

Mexico City's Parque Lineal La Viga by ERREqERRE may not look quite as lush or green as the other examples, but it is perfectly adapted to Mexico City's hot climate and water management issues. The 16,500 m2 park is intended to prevent flooding and drinking water shortages and offers cooling during heat waves. The park is within walking distance for 30,000 residents and can be reached by public transport in less than thirty minutes for another 4.6 million residents. The adaptation strategy is so well integrated into the public space that the many visitors of the park have stimulated the economic development of the surrounding underprivileged neighborhoods. In short, it is a wonderful example of inclusive climate adaptation.

© Erreqerre


As our traditional hardcore engineering approach to the threats of climate change falls short, we need to adopt a different one. The examples in this blog illustrate the wide range of possibilities and win-wins that can be created if we choose to design with nature instead of against it, while also taking people and their wellbeing in account. We need to think beyond the standard technical solutions and build on strategies with a flexible, versatile design, based on nature and integrated into the public realm and the life around it.

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