Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Resilience in Urban Development Projects in Flood-Prone Areas: A Challenge to Urban Design Professionals

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Resilience in Urban Development Projects in Flood-Prone Areas: A Challenge to Urban Design Professionals

Article excerpt


Will it ever be possible to see urban projects in flood-prone areas that integrate flood risks as a key element of the whole development process? In February 2010, the famous Storm Xynthia hit continental France. However, several years later, the various ways for the authorities and developers to control urbanisation and adapt architecture in those areas are still a burning issue. Indeed, state authorities do prohibit buildings in the most exposed territories, as outlined in flood-risk prevention plans. However, they are still striving to ensure that risk assessment strategies are duly implemented in lowor moderate-hazard flood-prone areas that remain constructible.

In such locations, developers must consider various residential and commercial issues - not to mention the multiple constraints pertaining to any development project. At the same time, they also have to make sure they do not increase flood exposure either locally or at the level of the overall urban system. However, according to a set of arguments developed by 'resilient urban planning' groups (Liao, 2012; Barroca and Serre, 2012; Barroca and Hubert, 2008), neighbourhood experts' techniques and know-how could be harnessed to great benefit in the very process of urban design, in order to better assess the risks, reduce vulnerability and enhance resilience. Were this strong potential to be tapped, urban systems would not be so exposed to flood events and their damage would tend to be limited.

In the following pages, we will examine how resilience proves operational at the scale of urban development projects. By looking at how various project designs are applied to urban planning projects in the four flood-prone areas we have selected - Le Havre, Angers, Narbonne and Romorantin - this article reflects on how urban design tends to evolve towards the construction of more flood-resilient cities, and how the various professionals involved in the process turn out to integrate flood risks into their work. Indeed, urban design appears in many ways as 'the melting pot where ambitions, knowledge and practical experiences come together to deliver flood-resilient developments' (Zevenbergen, 2010, 46). The aim of this article is therefore to understand how urban design professionals who value the proximity of water as an asset also happen to deal with the risks associated with it, and how they integrate those risks at the different levels of their projects.

In order to do so, we have conducted an extensive review of the ways in which urban design professionals tend to integrate flood-risk prevention into their work. As it appears, resilient approaches applied to floods in urban settings raise major issues, not only in terms of flood-risk management but also in terms of spatial quality in the built environment (Nillesen and Kok, 2015).

This article will therefore try and answer the two following research questions: how do professionals manage to integrate flood risks for projects located in floodprone areas? Simultaneously, how do they manage to overcome the difficulties raised by this type of urban development, and how does this translate specifically at each step of the development process? What kind of urban forms does this generate? While reviewing these questions, we will also try and point out how the solutions that urban design professionals come up with sometimes appear to be limited answers to the complex challenges posed by flood-risk reduction, especially when applied to new or remodelled neighbourhoods. In order to answer these questions, this article will build on some of the results provided by PRECIEU,1 a research project looking at how changes in urban design professions and in the making of cities, happen to impact project development. While doing so, this research project tries to assess more specifically the various uncertainties and constraints linked to flood risks and to the set of regulations associated with it.

The set of theoretical data on urban projects and urban resilience used for this article is drawn from a state-of-the-art section drafted for the PRECIEU project. …

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