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3.2.1 “Blue Urbanism and Coastal Urbanism” – Beyond the Green

The increasing influence of ecology in the field of landscape architecture and urban planning, such as in the emergence of Eco-Urbanism (Ruano, 1998), Ecological Urbanism (Mostafavi, Doherty and Design, 2016), Green Urbanism (Beatley, 2000), addresses a shift in focus that integrates better the various complex environmental and contextual factors (e.g. hydrological, ecological, geological, climatological) as well as wider territorial scales. These movements increasingly depart from object-orientated interventions to consider intricate, complex and dynamic systems (Orff, 2016). Furthermore, they seek to recognise that baseline ecological conditions of the past’s absence of human interference[161] can never be reached again. As the impact of climate change worsens, one of the new challenges for cities is to navigate the precarious scenarios of supporting the vital activities of human populations[162] while simultaneously regenerating and conserving ecosystems under threat.    

     Nevertheless, the influence of ecology has primarily been focused on green environmental movements within the territorial boundaries of the land (see also section 3.1.6 on “Terrestrial bias). There are many successful examples of re-greening cities by protecting and planting trees that have transformed urban environments’ atmosphere and ecology (see an example from Utrecht, Holland, in Figure 82). However, there is a lack of equivalent attention paid to blue public spaces/commons[163] and blue gardens (Kozlovsky and Grobman, 2017)[164]. For instance, Figure 82 presents recent projects that are addressing the “blue aspect” of urban regeneration, such as recreational areas that can function as retention ponds in the event of a heavy cloudburst event in Copenhagen, Denmark (Tredje Natur, n.d.) and reintroducing wetlands as part of the flood resilience in Wei River in China (Landezine, 2019). As SLR and SS become an increasing concern for coastal cities, there are new opportunities for integrating and focusing our attention on the “blue” [165]. For instance, research by Wiberg (2020), Hill (2015), Faragò et al. (2018) and Quintana et al. (2021) assesses the various built coastal protection, adaptation and coastal ecosystem restoration projects in Denmark and around the world. The findings indicate a research gap in more dynamic landforms and the need to integrate more marine nature-based solutions that require further exploration (see Figure 83).


Figure 82. (Top image) An example of more than four decades of terrestrial greening of cities via protecting urban planning in favour of trees is in Utrecht, Holland (Bom, 2022). Image credit: (Bom, 2022).
(Bottom image) An example of undoing the asphalt developments. The canal in Utrecht was restored after 50 years (Williams, 2022). Image credit: Bicycle Dutch.
The last column (Now-2100+) indicates the scope for more blue infrastructures, such as nature-based retention ponds and water-based vegetation landscaping-seascaping, as water gains more prominence in cities due to flooding or SLR/SS by the end of this century. The Top Right image is a project called “Enghaveplads” (Climate Park in English) in Copenhagen, Denmark, by Tredje Natur, and the Bottom Right image is a project called Weiliu Wetland Park by Yifang Ecoscape in Wei River’s floodplain outside of Xianyang City, China. Image credits: Tredje Natur (n.d.) and Yifang Ecoscape (Landezine, 2019).
(Extracted from Kumu S-O-T-A map – Enghaveplads, Copenhagen and Weilu Wetland Park, China node).

      Nevertheless, there is a growing awareness of the ecological footprint of coastal cities on the sea and the vital role marine ecologies play in addressing global warming. As a response, there is an emerging ethical approach called “Blue Urbanism” by Timothy Beatley (2014). He highlights the need to change the current exclusion of marine environments in modern policy, planning and design of cities (Beatley, 2014). He calls for coastal cities to exercise more proactive conservation and integration of marine ecosystems to tackle the current unprecedented risks to ocean health. Therefore, blue urbanism presents an argument for the importance of heightened awareness and partnership among city governments, planners, designers, scientists and urbanites to become part of a more complementary, mutually sustainable relationship between the city and the ocean (ibid.). The focus for coastal cities should extend beyond the sea level rise and storm surge issues but also the importance of coastal ecosystems and their role in nature-based solutions, along with community outreach and educational programs to enhance ocean literacy.

     Moreover, climate catastrophes have driven a paradigm shift to waterfront developments in the USA, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York City (NYC). Rafi Segal (Rafi Segal A+U) and Susannah Drake (DLand Studio), for instance, developed the notion of “Coastal Urbanism”, which presents a set of strategies, principles, and frameworks to change the urbanism and landscape along the coast to relieve the tension between the city and the ocean (Segal and Drake, 2021). The strategies are “an iterative, interdisciplinary, team-oriented design approach, [where] communities can come together with their elected officials to engage in a meaningful adaptation of the waterfront to reduce future damage and loss while securing more resilient and healthy environments” (ibid.).

     One of the proposals that exemplify their approach is called “The Bight”, which is in the Tri-State region of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut (see Figure 84). The proposal consists of a buffer zone in which land and water inter-mingle, creating new spaces for residence, work, recreation, habitat and future renewable energy production. Rather than constantly trying to maintain a hard edge, the edge becomes a more flexible and transformable surface with new economic, cultural, and environmental value (ibid.). Thus, Segal and Drake (2021) proposed three principles of “Receive, Protect, and Adapt”, which aim to redesign the meeting of land and water in this extensive zone (see Figure 84). “Receive” proposes increasing development and density on higher ground by strengthening transit corridors to enhance mobility and connection. “Protect” proposes to maintain and upgrade the vital infrastructure that can double as starting points for amphibious development, such as a living reef that lessens storm surge. “Adapt” proposes various activities in this buffer zone[166] to connect and relieve the pressure on the boundary dividing land and water. It also means that part of the risk area will retreat, as rising waters will make conventional B-A-U development impractical, redundant and dangerous. While buildings that have adapted to deal with more water will likely remain (such as elevated buildings on stilts), no public funding will be dedicated to infrastructure serving single-family homes in these zones (Segal and Drake, 2021). Thus, the three approaches reinterpret the thresholds between wet and dry, in some cases inviting the water to enter areas for water-based transport and recreation. Furthermore, areas of lower density intend to use this spongy land as a resource for cleansing industrial and agricultural runoff through a nature-based solution and, where possible, create renewable energy by capturing tidal energy (ibid.).


Figure 83. Based on Kristina Hill’s BCDC’s Bay Policies workshop (in the USA), exploring alternatives for coastal adaptation. Findings indicated a large unexplored solution space for more dynamic landforms (Hill, 2015). Image credit: Katrina Hill (2015).

Figure 84. Project by Rafi Segal A+U and DLand Studios (Susannah Drake) – “Bight: Coastal Urbanism” in the Tri-State, USA. This project aims to replace the hard edge that segregates the city and sea with a new “landscape economic zone — a buffer that allows land and water to commingle, creating new spaces for habitation, conservation, work, and play. This project is an example of long-term retreat as part of the coastal adaptation strategy” (DLand Studio, n.d.).
(Top row) The three main principles and three main typologies of Coastal Urbanism.
Image credit: (Second row) - Vision for a new landscape/seascape of the future – a buffer zone between land and sea (that is not based on land reclamation but allowing water to infiltrate).
(Third row) – Before and after mappings of the area where certain risk areas are allowed to be inundated due to SLR and certain critical areas protected.
(Bottom) – Different building and landscape/seascape typologies for areas that will be frequently inundated or permanently inundated due to future SLR.
(Extracted from Kumu S-O-T-A map –Bight Coastal Urbanism, NYC node).

     Many of these “blue” projects are still unbuilt and unrealised, indicating a need for more realised projects to study the successes and shortfalls of these projects. Consequently, the next section will delve into a few state-of-the-art projects that work with coastal ecosystems to provide an alternative approach to the B-A-U to coastal protection/adaptation and urban development.

[161] This is a big discussion among researchers and academics about when the start of major human interference on the so-called “natural world” began. Some researchers claim that it began from the onset of agricultural revolution that made significant changes to the land from the mid-17th century onwards and others argue that significant human interference started after the industrial revolution towards the end of the 19th century (Clarke 2015).

[162] Anthropogenic activities are predicted to increase throughout the 21st century from global population growth and increasing urban densification (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Population Division 2019).

[163] What I mean here by blue public space/commons are not marinas, harbour baths or waterfront promenades, but spaces that integrates marine life forms (such as seaweed, eelgrass, mussels, and so on) as one would do with green spaces where it integrates terrestrial life forms (such as trees, flowers, and so on).

[164] For instance, the sea gardens initiatives from Havhøst. Refer to section 1.5.2, or entries from Kanten/The Edge design competition in Vejle as shown in Part IV section

[165] Similar movement has been happening in the Arts and the Humanities, in a sub-field called “Blue Humanities” characterised by inter-trans disciplinary practice, synthesising environmental studies, oceanography, marine biology, maritime history, Atlantic history, ecology, science studies, looking into how the ocean has shaped history, science, languages, aesthetics and sensibilities (Gillis, 2013).

[166] According to Segal and Drake (2021), the buffer zone refers to “a new Coastal Land Management zone can reestablish the interface of land and water with a transformation from a hard line to an ecological zone - a field of protection and recreation. As such, this zone relieves the tension between the city and the ocean resulting from extreme storm events, high tides, elevated water tables, and flooding”.



Section 3.2.1 Footnote
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