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Resilient shrinking

Graduation work by Merel Enserink.

Demographic shrinkage, energy transition and climate change, three eminent problems that are happening all over the world. In this thesis these changes are seen from a positive perspective: what chances can depopulation bring to a landscape? As case study the municipalities Weert and Leudal were used as they are part of the CARE project of the Knowledge for Climate programme (Brink et al., 2012; Kennis voor Klimaat, 2014).

The three eminent problems mentioned above are all believed to be inescapable and prominent in the case study area; there will be climate change (IPCC, 2007; Roggema, 2012), population shrinkage (Oswalt 2005; Audirac et al., 2012; Fol, 2012; Martinez-Fernandez et al., 2012; Siljanoska et al., 2012), and depletion of non-renewable energy sources (ITPOES, 2010; Stremke, 2012; Dobbelsteen et al., 2012; Pulselli and Tiezzi, 2009). These prospected changes will lead to major transformations in the landscape.

Figure 1 – Hypothesis of trends happening and overlapping in the landscape.

The knowledge gap addressed in this thesis is the lack of integration between the three themes; this thesis focusses on finding integral, combined solutions to these eminent problems, as this connection between phenomena can be beneficial in creating sustainable landscapes (Fig.1). Therefore the research question is: What spatial strategy can create a robust landscape for a future shrinking region, which integrates climate adaptation and energy transition (simultaneously)? With the aim to compose a design that can help accommodate the future shrinkage and which creates a dynamic landscape that deals with climate change and becomes self-sufficient in regard to (renewable) energy provision. The research existed of several methods starting with a literature study, to find backgrounds on all three themes, and a landscape analysis. In this landscape analysis not only the present was analysed, but also the past and future trends in population shrinkage, energy transition, and climate change. With the aim of the study to find local solutions to deal with these issues another analysis was done. This analysis focussed on identifying the locations with the highest probability of facing all three challenges in the future, within the case study area. In the process this was named the hotspot analysis. The hotspots that came from this analysis were the starting point for the design process. As these were the spots with the highest possible chance on severe changes and the highest probability of these three themes coming together on the local scale.

Figure 2 – Toolbox of local interventions

To design the necessary interventions for the chosen ‘hotspots’ a toolbox was developed. In this toolbox six local interventions are described that together answer to the challenges of this thesis. These six interventions are called (Fig.2): PV Waterfields, Waterpark, Island Feeling, WADI system, Community Life, and Climate Neutral Business Park. All these interventions deal with different aspects of the three challenges. All of them incorporate at least two out of three challenges and most of them are designed to address all three challenges to some extent. One example is the WADI System, this is designed in the village Neer, in the northern part of the study area. This village will see a severe decrease in population and households; the decline in households will at least be 10% in 2050 (CBS, 2012; Etil, 2012). Another change in this area is the change in water- and groundwater level during the year (DHZ, 2012; KNMI, 2009; WUR, 2009). In winter there will be more water to coop with, whereas in summer shortages in both water- and groundwater are predicted.

Figure 3 – Sections of the WADI System

The WADI-system is a water retention system that catches the water that falls on the roofs and gives it time to infiltrate in the soil before running of directly to the river Maas. Houses that are for sale for a longer period will be demolished and on those plots WADIs will be created (Fig.3). In the neighbourhood a grid will be made of small channels to connect the different roof surfaces with the WADI, this is based on the height differences in the neighbourhood. A second aspect is that the volumes of the demolished houses are kept, by building a steel framework in the shape of the house, to suggest the volume. Thirdly, the space will not only be used for water retention but also for renewable energy potentials, such as biomass and solar energy. On south oriented plots solar panels can be placed, plots with another orientation can be planted with biomass species, preferably species that do not use much water themselves. By shaping the renewable energy potentials in the volume of the demolished house the image of the street will stay vivid and will not show gaps. This is a small scale intervention which can easily be integrated in the current neighbourhood structure. It is depending on the natural outflow of people, which means it is dynamic in its development. As there are no high standard conditions for this intervention it is quite simple to copy the idea to other sites as well. By starting on a smaller scale and zooming out to the regional scale the normal designing process was inverted. This was done following the principles of resilience thinking (Folke et al., 2010). This is a discourse in landscape architecture, and related disciplines, which argues that grounding solutions for large scale problems in the local context will make a landscape more resilient. As these local interventions radiate to their environment and strengthen each other. Another argument that they use is that by grounding the solutions in a local context there will be more support from locals and it will be easier in a later stage to make regional interventions, if necessary, as the local inhabitants are already aware of the changes that are happening (Albers and Deppisch, 2012). This has also been the argument for the regional strategy (fig. 4); by applying the toolbox to the entire region a structure is created of resilient spots dealing with the three eminent problems this region is facing. Thereby increasing the resilience of the region without losing its adaptability to changes and by not making large scale interventions, which turn out to be unnecessary.

Figure 4 – Regional strategy

The aim of the thesis was to find out if these themes, when combined, would strengthen each other. By using the toolbox a divers landscape is created, that tackles the different aspects of the three challenges. However the matter in which the challenges are addressed differs per intervention. Therefore the sum of the different interventions can strengthen each other. To test this, the toolbox is also introduced on other sites within the study area. The process of this study, in the end, defined the spatial strategy that seemed to fit best for creating a robust landscape that can deal with the changes cast by population shrinkage, energy transition, and climate change. The approach that comes forward in this study is based on grounding large scale problems in the local context, the resilience thinking (Folke et al. 2010; Albers and Deppisch, 2012). Further research on this topic should incorporate the financial side of the story. In a shrinking region there are often not enough budgets to make interventions. However, by including the adaption to climate change and energy transition other funds can be used to implement these solutions. Moreover, renewable energy sources will at some point be profitable and ensure new income for the municipality.

Figure 5 – Impression of the PV Waterfields

Secondly, the regional strategy, due to a lack of time, is not been fully developed. By developing these local interventions a certain level of resilience will be gained. But possible, to ensure that interventions are profitable, the scale of the intervention should be increased. Here lies an opportunity for further designing in a dynamic manner to increase the resilience of this region even more. With this thesis a plea is made to design integral solutions to large scale problems that are fitted in the local context. Inverting the design process and using the local qualities to develop a region that would otherwise be forgotten. As the CARE project states, these rural areas can play a vital role when it comes to climate adaptation; as buffer areas. These regions have enough space to deal with large scale changes and can thereby also become a buffer area for more urban regions (Brink et al., 2012). Therefore, landscape architects should try and exploit these possibilities to strengthen our landscapes and ensure a better future for its inhabitants.


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Oswalt, P. (ed.) (2005) Shrinking cities, Volume 1, International research. Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany. In Martinez-Fernandez, C., Audirac, I., Fol, S., and Cunningham-Sabot, E. (2012) ‘Shrinking Cities: Urban Challenges of Globalization’. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 36(2): 213-225

Pulselli, R.M. and Tiezzi, E. (2009) City out of Chaos; Urban Self-organization and Sustainability. Southampton: WIT Press

Roggema, R. (Ed.) (2012) Swarming Landscapes: The Art of Designing For Climate Adaptation. Dordrecht: Springer.

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oktober 11, 2014

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