The Antifragile Landscape Rising Tides and the Future of Coastal Communities
When I think about my childhood, some of the most vivid memories I hold are those spent exploring the sandy shoreline of my hometown. Looking out across the Indian Ocean, the descending sun would disappear at what seemed like the edge of the Earth. The cool salty breeze, warm soft sand and the continuous breaking of waves triggered all my senses. This was my playground.
Today as a landscape architect, I find myself highly intrigued by the issue of climate change induced sea-level rise, which threatens the longevity of my home and fond memories. By the end of the 21st century, a gradual rise in temperature by approximately +0.9°C to +5.4°C is expected to cause sea levels to rise between +1m and +3m globally.(1) With 38% of the human population living within 100km of tidal waters (2), design for coastal settlements will become a critical new focus for urbanism. Yet the complexity of this problem demands renewed emphasis from designers on just how to turn the theory of dynamic and adaptive systems into a practice of city-building
In addition to scientific analysis, the severity of climate change has been made dramatically clear in recent years through coverage in digital media. Rising sea levels will change topographic datum and threaten population patterns around the globe, where heavily populated areas are directly affected. For a number of the Pacific Islands, populations will be forced to abandon their countries for safer destinations. However, sea-level rise is a global issue and questions the sustainability of mega cities as well. Several of the highest density cities, such as Mumbai and Shanghai, will face this critical issue and may potentially be rendered uninhabitable. It has forced the Maldives to seriously consider relocation of almost 400,000 citizens, since the atolls that support the nation reach their peak elevation at around 2.5m. (3) The question of where one-third of the Mekong Delta’s 17 million population ends up, if submerged is a concern. Even the most conservative estimates predict that at least one-fifth of the delta will be inundated. (4) Rapid climate change is threatening to overwhelm infrastructure that in the past had allowed cities to cope with inundation and surges.
If permanent inundation is a likely occurrence, then as designers we may see this is an opportunity to collaboratively engage in design to define the future sustainability of important economic, environmental and social elements. Simplifying this approach is Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a Lebanese scholar in risk management, well-know for his concept of the Antifragile. Traditionally, a fragile system is often recognized as vulnerable, and in the event of disaster, is often degraded and broken. The antifragile is not a solution, butit encourages a new way of thinking. It goes beyond robustness, and explains that something does not merely withstand shock and disturbance, but actually improves because of it. It is achieved by encouraging a high degree of redundancy within a system.
To exercise this idea in the coastal landscape, the Antifragile approach can be achieved by integrating resilience, exploring opportunities for future adaptability and understanding important ecosystem dynamics to best implement these ideas. The Antifragile landscape may redefine the form and shape of shorelines to ensure the long-term sustainability of important elements that have made coastal living so desirable.
With the idea of Antifragility at the forefront of design speculation, experimentation has focused on the idea of re-imagining the coastal edge in light of a changing coastal environment. Critical site investigation at Eastern Beach revealed opportunities for potential adaptation to increase resilience in the local community. Coastal parklands were redesigned to channel flooding into treatment
areas, which were treated through an extensive range of tolerant native vegetation. What was achieved was a unique collection of interconnected parkland that provide opportunities for recreation and well being, while supporting coastal accessibility and long-term residential investment. As well as sustaining local ecological significance and providing valuable assets for local community.
To further investigate the integration of resilient adaptation in coastal communities, ongoing analysis of the Whangateau Harbour has revealed important criteria for design including existing liveability, local culture, future development, biodiversity and important environmental conditions. If flooding is a likely occurrence in the future, these areas will need to incorporate a high level of redundancy to limit the damage induced by disturbance, ultimately following the approach of the antifragile. To achieve this, design interventions have extended on the findings at Eastern Beach, exploring the principles and dynamics of land reclamation. The implementation of offshore structures work to slow water at the coastal edge, minimizing erosive tidal behaviour and increasing sediment deposition. Working with the natural behaviour of the harbour, land is reclaimed overtime in calm coastal conditions. In the event of storm surge, the obtained sediment is eroded and distributed along the wider coastline, effectively nourishing adjacent beach and cliff environments. Offshore implementation along with flood-park development, will likely bring change to the coastal experience, but ensures the longevity of coastal communities, importantly retaining coastal investment and accessibility while also enhancing ecological integrity.
(1) IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2014. Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Geneva, Switzerland. IPCC.
(2) World Resources Institute. 2009. Retrieved from: http://www.wri.org/publication/building-climate-equity
(3) Bergdoll, B. 2011. Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront. p. 14-30. New York. The Museum of Modern Art.
(4) Bergdoll, B. (2011).