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5.2.4 After Retreat: New Blue Urban Commons

[S]patial design disciplines understand space as a relational structure, by going beyond dualisms such as city – country, natural – artificial and placing the focus on the relations between humans and things and their dynamics.

Sigrun Langer, Mapping as a navigational strategy

(Langner, 2019, p.51).

Managed retreat and stopping development in risk zones (“tilbagetrækning” in Danish) had not been officially presented as a viable strategy. Despite the best intentions of the individual municipal public servants, it is not a national strategy backed by the Danish parliament, most likely because it would constitute a highly controversial topic. Politicians also have limited expertise on this subject. Therefore, more time and effort are required to convincingly present a sound retreat plan of certain risk areas that would need to be relocated in the long term and regulations made to stop development in critical areas (and not just get developers to pay for the wall while doing B-A-U). There are many complex reasons behind the delay of no development plan in risk zones and a viable retreat plan for the long term in Denmark. Understanding the various factors will require further detailed examination. Nevertheless, in the absence of these regulations and official strategies, urban development will continue in the risk zones, and if they are continually designed in a B-A-U manner, these areas will be costly to protect and relocate in the future. Moreover, it will continue to perpetuate a sense of denial about the impending threats to climate change and delay the need for more radical changes[264]  sorely needed in these risk areas.

     Additionally, the current “Storm surge Strategy” for Vejle (i.e. Stormflod Strategi) that passed in December 2020 is based on predicted future scenarios of SLR and SS with no mention of a retreat[265] plan (refer to Figure 114 in section 4.1.1). However, given the current global inertia in meeting the IPCC goals/Paris Agreements in 2030 and 2050, these strategic documents could underestimate the future impacts of SLR/SS. Unless Vejle wants to keep increasing its elevation (bulkheads) and install bigger pumps (which is an option), could Vejle make use of the unexplored opportunities for urban transformation through a crisis of SLR/SS? (i.e. new uses, new habitats, new financial models, new building models, new ways of living).  Furthermore, having a long-term retreat plan has implications for Urban Seascaping. For instance, if the most vulnerable areas at the waterfront are relocated to safer grounds, these risk areas can be available for urban transformation – in this case, a form of new blue urban commons[266], as explored in the projective Kumu mapping in section 4.2.2. This raises the question of who should occupy the waterfront in the face of rising sea and raging storms in the future. Are blue commons a necessity that should be publicly owned and accessible to humans, and the land reclaimed risk areas be returned to nonhumans in the future? 

      Ultimately, in the absence of a sensible long-term retreat plan, Vejle’s municipality’s Storm surge strategy also reverts to the conventional approach of asking how high the storm surge protection levels should be (refer to section 3.1 on dominant practices). Rather, the question should also be about the different ways to coexist with the sea, opening up more alternative design possibilities such as those indicated by the Urban Seascaping propositions.

[264] Including the extra time required to experiment and monitor the impact of these radical solutions.

[265] Also missing from the report is the designation of “no development zones” (i.e. degrowth of Fjordbyen), no allocation of B-A-U developments in the risk zones or future plans to retrofit existing buildings to be able to handle frequent inundation. Moreover, the long-term strategy outlined in the report only reaches up to the year 2070 and is very vague and indefinite in its future plans.

[266] Vejle on the East coast in East Jutland is different to other coastal cities with stronger tidal differences and waves with much more dangerous and deeper currents. Therefore, it provides an opportunity for designing spaces that allow safer access to water for the citizens. The transferability of the Kanten/The Edge competition findings would be appropriate for similar contexts in Denmark (especially the fjord-based coast cities of East Jutland, Sjælland and Fyn).



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