Spatial adaptation in deltas

A wicked problem

Many deltas host large urban areas, including megacities like Jakarta, Dhaka, Shanghai and Bangkok. Climate change negatively affects the livelihoods and health of delta inhabitants through drought (Storyline: Drought in deltas), heat and urban flooding (Storyline: Flood risk management). Additionally, population growth and urbanisation put a high pressure on deltas (Storyline: The future of our deltas) and its cities, e.g. through excessive groundwater extraction and soil sealing. Adapting to these changes, to ensure healthy, climate- and future-proof cities, is a true challenge and requires spatial adaptation.

Logo of the spatial adaptation storylines: three seperate buildings and a tree

Moving forward

The past years have seen substantial advances regarding the measures for spatial adaptation, and various kinds of green, grey and hybrid solutions have been substantially improved. These include all types of urban nature-based solutions (green roofs and other types of green infrastructure), rainwater infiltration facilities and building techniques that make homes more heat resistant. In addition, actors are putting innovative solutions on the table, such as floating urbanisation.

Spatial adaptation is still the new kid in town

Therefore, besides enhancing climate resilience, spatial adaptation serves purposes like improving human health and recreation, and it is increasingly acknowledged as an essential aspect of urban planning. “However”, Dries Hegger, assistant professor of water and climate governance, notes, “spatial adaptation is still ‘the new kid in town’ and, although measures are usually well technically elaborated, societal decision-making and the implementation of measures remains a problem”. 

Aerial view of Dhaka, Bangladesh and Chicago, USA
Dhaka, Bangladesh (left) and Chicago skyline, USA (right). Credits: Pixabay/Rahmatullah77,

No optimal solution

In many cases, there is no consensus on the feasibility and desirability of spatial adaptation measures. Moreover, interpretations of the main challenge that cities in deltas are facing may vary. Combined with the context-specificity of cities and neighbourhoods, this implies that there is no optimal solution. Moreover, consequences of employed solutions are to some degree uncertain and may pose new challenges for specific stakeholder groups. Dries Hegger explains, "The implementation of spatial adaptation is therefore often described as a wicked problem".

Through interdisciplinary cooperation and in an integrated way, researchers at the Water, Climate and Future Deltas hub address the implementation of spatial adaptation, aiming for sustainable development of cities in precarious deltas.

Preconditions for implementation
Overcoming barriers for implementation
Future challenges
Interdisciplinary research group