“It’s not just about water, not just about heat. It’s about humans and nature and how our cities function holistically and work together.”– Jeremy Anterola
With cities becoming more populated and the growing demand for housing, many are still pushing the question of how continued urban development affects our climate to the very bottom of their lists. But as we now know, it’s scrutinising the detailed aspects of cities, such as urban design and open space planning, that will directly impact our environment.
Jeremy Anterola is an Associate Landscape Architect specializing in nature-based solutions for climate adaptation at Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl (RSD) in Germany. Their work focuses on “conceptualising and building places that integrate people and nature, especially in response to the impact of climate change.”
“The climate discussion has taken on new urgency and there is this sense of general awareness, even positive reception, within the planning process that a rapid change is urgent. Yet, climate adaptation tools are still seen as add-ons. We need a shift in the approach and thinking between integrating these methods, so that they become more commonplace; otherwise, the methods will be seen as extras rather than as a necessity,” explains Jeremy, summarising the aim RSD strives for.
During our conversation, he gave us some pointers, advice, and interesting and thought-provoking ideas on the matter of connecting architectural design and climate adaptation/mitigation.
The Importance of the Discourse
“Cites are not going to become any less dense. We’re going to continue to have denser areas, we’re going to still continue to need places to live, we’re going to need affordable places.”
Right now, there’s competition for space, alongside resource consumption and climate change – the importance of combating climate mitigation and talking about these things, therefore, lies in smaller initiatives, starting at the ground level and building up to the bigger pieces. As Jeremy explains, implementation is as much needed as the vision, hence “rules and regulations help. But just as important is buy-in from local residents; top-down plus bottom-up is key to move beyond pilot projects and more into developing standards that hopefully every city and developer can implement.” One example is Denmark, where cities are required to produce a climate adaptation plan, especially to manage the effect of stormwater, flooding and cloudburst (heavy, sudden rain) events.
People: The Biggest Challenge
“Cities have to lead by example. A policy of ‘not in my backyard’ cannot exist because climate adaptive solutions transgress municipal borders and departmental responsibilities. How can you actually convince the citizens to take action when, at the city government level, there exists a lack of willingness to collaborate to find different solutions?” says Jeremy. “There is a persistence of competing visions for public space, streets, parks, and plazas, while simultaneously working with limited finances.” Citizens want and see the use of space for something else. It’s clear how to technically do things, what the benefits and issues are, but there’s this hurdle of conflicting interests: who benefits?
And there’s also the question of responsibility and up-keeping the space. When you get people involved with a project from the beginning or turn the project into something they can see and feel the benefits of, they will feel more personally connected with it. For example, when you remove an area designated for cars (e.g. a parking space) and replace it with an area for people (e.g. a café area), “there is a larger potential that local citizens will take care of the space, they’ll take ownership, and even aim to maintain it in the future,” argues Jeremy. Referring to pop-up areas, he continues by explaining “the important part lies in these small movements – these quick-wins – because they enable those impacted to see the potential benefit, that it can impact them in a positive manner. This is a really rewarding moment, a real meshing of top-down and bottom-up processes – and it will be critical even more so moving forward to propel the climate discussion towards real change.”
“It’s an inherently tough battle to making it clear and understandable of what benefits and consequences exist when dealing with urban challenges, and to see this vision move from concept into the implementation phase. That’s an immense challenge moving forward.”
The Ideal Solution
It starts with a local initiative and with recognition. “We have so many cities that are existing, and there are green fields, but really, we have to find a way to better equip the denser parts of our cities – to make them more resilient, as well as to ensure that the impact and benefit of green infrastructure is not reserved just for those who can ‘afford’ higher quality open spaces” claims Jeremy. And it starts with people taking action and the government working with them. It’s coming together from the start.
But not everything has to be a new and shiny thing, retrofitting is another way to go. As we’ve seen lately, a lot of cities and areas around the world have been affected by climate change and natural catastrophes. Instinctively, when an area is damaged or ruined, the first thought is to rebuild it. However, Jeremy has another view on the matter: “Maybe it’s a sign that the way it was done in the past is not the right way, that conditions have changed or that building again in an area that’s at risk is not necessarily the right solution.” It’s about considering those catastrophes, learning from them and previous mistakes, and showing that it can be done better.
“For the city-state of Singapore, water autonomy is a top priority and the driver behind the need for an island-wide urban water management programme. As part of the ABC (Active Beautiful Clean) Central Watershed Masterplan, a key pilot project was the rejuvenation of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, a 62-hectare site that transformed a concrete stormwater canal into a beautiful, naturalized river meandering through the park and opening the green space to become an inviting central open space for one of the major neighbourhoods in Singapore,” describes Jeremy. “As part of a much-needed park upgrade and plans to improve the capacity of the Kallang channel along the edge of the park, works were carried out simultaneously to transform the utilitarian concrete channel into a naturalised river, creating new spaces for the community to enjoy,” reports Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl. They further specify that a “2.7 km straight concrete drainage channel has been converted into a sinuous, 3.2 km long natural river”.
What is impressive about this project to Jeremy is the interconnection between a vision, a master plan, the identification of key pilots, and the intense collaboration that had to occur between multiple agencies to enable the park’s success. Singapore had a concrete channel that was essentially an unused public space “bordered on either side by a functional green lawn area. Together, NParks (responsible for the open space), and PUB (responsible for utilities), cooperated in way that transgressed traditional divided responsibilities, and repurposed a mono-functional element into a multi-functional park that could manage and treat stormwater, minimize flood impact, increase biodiversity and still provide a place for people in the dense urban city.”
Now, Bishan Park is a place where people come together, and a place that showcases the successful tackling of major natural events. In the park, there is even a Recycled Hill made of concrete slabs left over from the old concrete Kallang canal. “It’s a park where people go to for Tai-Chi, for running and cycling, to play, to meet, and I think that’s what you need to understand the impact of such transformation: to be able to see it, to feel it. And then you can understand the other benefits of it, too,” says Jeremy.
What Lies in the Future?
Concerning the years to come and the fate of climate-adaptive and climate-mitigative constructions, it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Jeremy seems to agree that the situation is getting better as more and more cities are seeing the need as well as the benefits of making their cities climate-proof. There’s more information, knowledge, and successful examples out there. On the other hand, there’s an issue of long-term maintenance and “finding the right model for ensuring that the goal at the beginning will be ensured over the long period of time.” Maintenance is a management issue: who’s going to take care of it? Who’s going to pay for it? How will the property look in 5 or 10 years from now?
The generation that maintains sustainable constructions is slowly getting older and won’t be able to maintain it forever. And maybe there is no other staff properly trained for it, “so then you have this gap in there,” says Jeremy. When sustainable buildings first got recognition, the most important thing was to show that this ecological development could work, and the focus wasn’t on maintenance in the long run.
The role of architects, designers and planners is thus becoming more and more vital. With the architectural and planning changes, Jeremy sees “the role of a planner or architect is evolving, where their role has to additionally be that of a mediator and moderator, understanding how to make a vision understandable and pragmatic while including the input from a multitude of stakeholders. They are in the middle of it all. And they can bring these actors together – and perhaps really make a change – if they understand how the parts fit.”
There you have it: a lot of thought and future projections go into creating the ideal architectural design and making sure it’s climate-proof. With natural catastrophes becoming more common, and a higher number of people living in cities, it’s more important than ever to establish a proper, safe, functioning city design, able to withstand future challenges. How do we do that? Working together with governments, communities and especially city planners to ensure a space where everyone benefits – we only have one planet after all. Future architects and designers sure do have their work cut out for them; but as Jeremy has relayed to us, it can be done, changes aren’t impossible!