Our towns are under pressure
Many Danish coastal towns have already had experience with rising sea levels and escalating challenges in terms of preparedness and urban planning. The problem with sea level rises is that they break the frames for how municipalities usually plan and make decisions. We have to work with much longer time horizons, many more parameters, and much greater uncertainties than we are used to. This is why we need to develop new knowledge and new methods.
‘We need more knowledge about the premises, risks and consequences of different solutions for coastal protection and urban development, and we need to test different scenarios in practice. This is one of the things we contribute to the project’, says Professor Gertrud Jørgensen from the department for landscape architecture and planning at University of Copenhagen.
A project aimed at practice
Several American and European cities are ahead of us when it comes to developing and testing nature-based solutions, such as beach meadows and lagoons, or considering whether some of the built-up areas should be ‘given back to nature’ in light of rising sea levels. But this type of solutions presents major challenges. For what happens when the interests of a municipality clash with the interests of a citizen or a company? And what can you do when, for instance, a historic town centre in a coastal town comes under pressure from the water? And how can we manage the planning of urban development when we need to take into consideration the great uncertainty about how much the sea levels are going to rise and when?
‘Danish municipalities are already working on adapting to rising sea levels. But, so far, this has mostly involved dikes, tide walls and raised quaysides. But in terms of both technology and economy it makes sense to work with nature-based solutions, especially in the long term’, says Professor Tom Nielsen from Aarhus School of Architecture.
‘The project also aims to communicate the results, primarily to planners, coastal managers and municipal politicians in the most exposed towns. But what we conclude would also be of interest to citizens, consultants and other professionals. We aim is to develop a common language for discussing the problem and to identify new and better solutions’, says Karsten Arnbjerg-Nielsen, professor at Technical University of Denmark.
Part of a larger effort
The research project is supported by Realdania and is expected to run from June 2020 to December 2023. The research project complements Realdania’s partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark and several other projects that all deal with the theme of towns and rising sea-levels and have received funding from Realdania within the past two years.
‘Today, rising sea-levels is a major challenge to several Danish cities. We also see a great interest in living and building close to the water – with all the qualities offered by a coastline. It is, consequently, urgent that we find good and sustainable ways of ‘meeting’ the water, to allow us to make intelligent, long-term decisions that provide better conditions for urban areas in the future’, says Mikkel Suell Henriques, project manager at Realdania.
- The background of the project is a comprehensive report by Realdania from 2019, entitled Byerne og det stigende havvand (Towns and Rising Sea-levels)
- The project is divided into three parts: International case studies, developing models, and solutions for coastal towns
- In all, ten researchers from the three educational institutions will be associated with the project