Ongoing / Urban Planning and Policy

The Future Ground: Urban Planning Under Climate Uncertainty

PhD Request for Collaboration / SupriyaKrishnan, Resilience Lab, TU Delft, Netherlands

This note provides an introduction to my ongoing research on urban planning and climate risks. Using Mumbai and Amsterdam as its two case studies, this 4-year Ph.D. research will develop and test a methodology to systematically formulate urban planning strategies towards long-term climate resilience.

This research is supported by the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS).

As a research that aims at improving urban planning processes, collaboration with practitioners is essential. We would like to engage with key experts in practice and academia working at the intersection of urban planning, infrastructure and climate risks to explore deeper issues and opportunities for resilient urban planning through semi-structured interviews (max 1 hour). In addition, the research will require:

  1. Insights on urban plans, climate and development policies, major upcoming infrastructure projects.
  2. Socio-economic data and land-use maps and transportation maps.

Cities across the world are acting to improve their climate resilience. Decisions on urban infrastructure and land-use create path-dependencies that have far-reaching developmental implications. Conventional urban planning (with a time horizon of up to 20 years) is inadequate to account for these dependencies that is essential to plan for climate uncertainties. Quantitative methods such as adaptive planning present means to set long-term flexible climate goals while committing to short-term development actions. However, this method does not take into account the life cycles of urban infrastructure systems nor does it consider the requirements and constraints of urban planning.

The need for resilience

By 2050, more than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. This wave of urbanisation brings with it the urgent need and opportunity to provide reliable infrastructure such as transport, energy, and water that will shape cities for decades to come. As climate hazards evolve with a fair degree of uncertainty, they are exposing a higher concentration of these infrastructure systems and people to risk.

As we see rising consequences and damages from climate hazards, there is an increased momentum in developing strategies for urban resilience in the past decade. Among many examples are the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilience Cities, Climate and Disaster Resilience Index (CDRI), several conceptual and operationalization frameworks for urban resilience by global organizations such as UNDRR, ADB, ASEAN, and UNFCC. Based on these, urban planning practice is making dedicated efforts in domains such as water management, blue-green infrastructure master plans, flood control infrastructure, large-scale retrofits, nature-based solutions and multifunctional urban spaces (floodable public plains, underground reservoirs, parking garages, etc). In an increasingly dynamic world, any such investment has a demonstrated impact on surrounding development, land-use, socio-economic development and creates long-term path-dependencies with other infrastructure systems. If implemented without sufficient foresight, these investments may have negative consequences such as higher development in hazard-prone areas, damages to lifeline infrastructure, impacts on productivity, and reduced quality of life.

To plan for climate change, urban planning must adapt. This research focuses on resilience as a spatial challenge and how that can enable long-term transformation of the urban environment towards resilience. We will develop and test a methodology for urban planning under climate uncertainties such that it can account for evolving risks and adapt accordingly. The idea is to be able to be able to combine for long-term resilience goals with short-term development objectives that are a priority for most cities (see Fig. 01). This research will use two case studies to design, test and validate the methodology. The cases will determine the boundary conditions, choice of climate risks and uncertainties, infrastructure systems and development trends.  Two cases of different planning cultures and complexity have been selected to test the robustness and limits of the methodology, and, at a later stage, this widens the scope of the methodology so it can potentially be modified for usage to other city cases.

Case study 1: Amsterdam
The City of Amsterdam has strong climate ambitions while striving to maintain its role as an economic and cultural hub of the Netherlands. It faces a range of hazards coupled with aging infrastructure, demographic changes and phdnote_skrishnan_20200513 ground for technological innovations, the impacts on the urban environment are getting more uncertain. The city grapples with migration and the need to create more housing and infrastructure, hence, managing urban expansion and peripheral growth. This level of complexity and limited decision-making timelines for urban planning have made it challenging to integrate long-term resilience objectives (with the exception of some sectors).

Case study 2: Mumbai The Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) is complex and already deals with impacts from chronic urban floods and associated damage to its lifeline infrastructure, socio-economic disparities. This is compounded by infrastructure systems that have reached the limits of their capacity, and the challenge of balancing new types of infrastructure (like the metro) in an already dense urban fabric and maintaining environmental sustainability. The complexity and the focus of planning and political decisions on the present situation have made it challenging to establish and implement long-term planning goals (beyond 20 years), which are critical to managing climate uncertainties.

Knowledge impact

The following components will be developed in the course of the research:
1. A methodology that allows setting long-term urban planning strategies while accounting for short-term development needs. The methodology will combine quantitative adaptation pathways and qualitative design research methods.
The adaptation pathways approach was developed and applied successfully for the national Delta Programme for flood risk management in the Netherlands for 2100. This will be its first application to urban planning.
2. A resilient site suitability plan for Amsterdam and Mumbai that can form the basis for long-term urban planning.

Bio I am a second-year doctoral researcher at TU Delft’s Resilience Lab in The Netherlands. I studied architecture at Sir J J College of Architecture followed by a Masters in Urbanism (Honours in Infrastructure and Environment) at TU Delft. Most recently, I was on the core working team of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) in New Delhi with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and National Disaster Management Authority. Previously, I have worked full-time at architectural design offices in India. I am currently working on building the first set of research material, data, and a list of experts and organizations that are interested in this subject. Please do reach out to