Ongoing / Urban Planning and Policy

The Future Ground: Urban Planning Under Climate Uncertainty

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. 

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.

To plan for evolving uncertainties, urban planning must adapt. In this Ph.D. research, we will develop and test a methodology for urban planning under long-term climate uncertainties by presenting a framework to systematically exploring the uncertainty space and match it to urban planning responses.

More specifically, we explore the potential of existing short-term masterplans to accommodate decisions in anticipation of long-term climate uncertainties. In doing so, we approach climate resilience as a spatial challenge to explore how planners can enable the long-term transformation  of the urban environment. The research will use the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam (MRA) as its principle case studies to develop, test and refine the methodology.

We use a combination of methods including desk research, extensive interviews with experts, scenario development and land-use models to project future urban growth under changing climate. At the core of the project is the use of dynamic adaptive planning to inform flexible decision making in the long run.

Knowledge impact

Step 1: We analyse at existing discourses and frameworks around urban planning, climate resilience and uncertainties to establish the requirements and constraints city planners face in the path of long-term decision making.

Step 2: We use the results from Step 1 to develop a resilient site suitability plan for Mumbai that can form the basis for short term (5-20 years) and long-term urban planning decisions (40+ years). This will combine land-use models with the climate adaptation pathways approach (which was applied successfully for the Netherlands National Flood Risk Management Programme) for 21001. This will be its first application to urban planning.

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.