How design thinking and landscape architecture can help cities regain their resilience

by Sophia Rettberg, Resilient Cities 2019 Guest Blogger

Environmental hazards such as flooding, heat waves and droughts are increasingly common challenges for cities around the globe. As these issues demand on-going adaptation and innovation, local governments have turned to design thinking – a people-centered approach for building products and services – for solutions. Landscape architecture and design thinking are approaches that can tackle locally specific problems in novel ways.

Design thinking in urban development is a systematic methodology that aims to involve all actors concerned and provide innovative user-oriented solutions at the center of the process. As a result, design thinking can lead to innovative solutions in the urban landscape.

While nature and natural processes are often perceived as threats to urban areas, Antje Stokman, a Professor of landscape architecture at HafenCity University in Hamburg, Germany suggests practitioners must learn to incorporate nature into our urban landscape to create more resilience for cities and the people within them.

Rather than viewing nature as a force which needs to be fought with increasingly aggressive technologies and grey infrastructure such as walls and dams, planners need to incorporate nature-based solutions into cities if they are to make them truly resilient.

Stokman explains that through the design thinking process, cities have to identify stakeholders, connect with them, and help those stakeholders connect with the landscape. Designers, artists and scientists must work together to form a comprehensive understanding of the site before they can engage in a co-design process with residents who will actually use these spaces. Through this process designers can make sure that development projects meet the needs of communities while making cities more livable, equitable, and resilient.

In different local contexts, design thinking can lead to varied solutions to address the diverse challenges facing cities around the world. For example, rapid urbanisation over the past two decades in China has led to the loss of over 123,000 square kilometres of farmland and food security has emerged as a major issue across the country.

The city of Shanghai is currently home to nearly 24 million residents and is innovatively working within the constraints of the urban landscape to help feed the growing population. The Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District is one of Shanghai’s vertical farming projects, producing largely leafy greens which make up over half of the vegetable diet of the average Shanghai resident.

Located between the city center and the international airport, the complex is built up into the landscape of the city but also offers a public green space. The agricultural district provides food for the city, alleviating food insecurity, but also offers an inclusive green space for residents.

Michael Grove, Principal and Chair of Landscape Architecture, Civil Engineering and Ecology, at SASAKI, a landscape architecture firm based in Boston, USA, explains how the project worked with Shanghai residents from the initial design phase to ensure the project would fit the needs of the city and build ownership of the concept and the physical space.

Grove advocates for engaging early and often throughout the designing process. The more that people understand about the public benefits of a project, whether they are focused on ecosystem protection or combating climate change, the better.

Bangkok is another rapidly growing and urbanizing city. Located in the Chao Phraya river delta and home to 15 million people, the unplanned development of Bangkok covered over the porous land of the delta with concrete, exacerbating the effects of what was once natural flooding.

Today, Bangkok is sinking approximately one full centimeter every year. This concrete landscape crippled the resilience of the city; even normal rainfall leads to significant flooding, and in 2011 Bangkok experienced devastating floods that led to over 800 deaths and the displacement of approximately 160,000 people.

Kotch Voraakhom, the Founder and CEO of Porous City Network, based in Bangkok, told the story of Chulalongkorn Centennial Park. The park is designed to help the city combat flooding and climate change.

The park itself is built on a slight incline with rainwater storage situated at the lower end. When the city floods, this open green space provides a space for the water, bringing back some of the natural porosity of what was previously wetlands. The design mimics rice terraces, slowing down the rainwater and collecting it before it drains into public sewage.

Chulalongkorn Centennial Park is only one small example of what would be needed to make Bangkok a truly resilient city. Projects such as this will need to be scaled up throughout the city to address the effects of flooding, but this one innovative, nature-based solution provides a snapshot of what a modern yet sustainable Bangkok could look like.

Sophia Rettberg is a Master’s candidate of Global Development at the University of Copenhagen. This is her second year in a row blogging for the Resilient Cities Congress.

This blog is based on session A3 – Building Sustainable and Resilient Cities through the Design of Innovative and Inclusive Urban Landscapes at the Resilient Cities Congress 2019. The session was facilitated by Daniela Rizzi.

Panelists: Chih-Wei Chang, Project Director, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany; Michael Grove, Principal and Chair of Landscape Architecture, Civil Engineering and Ecology, Sasaki, Boston, United States; Antje Stokman, Professor, HafenCity University, Hamburg, Germany; Kotch Voraakhom, Founder and CEO, Porous City Network, Bangkok, Thailand; Lee-Shing Fang, Professor, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Adaptation Committee, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan

Get ICLEI’s latest urban sustainability news

Similar Posts