Flooded urban landscapes are frightening, beautiful, and a call to action by the landscape, architecture and urban design professions

A terrible thing happened to Pakistan, reminding us of the Sumerian Flood Tablets and the flood of the Old Testament (which may refer the same flood). The ancient floods were seen as a call to humans to change their ways – and so should the great Indus Flood of 2010, the great Australian flood of 2011, the great Brazilian flood of 2011 and the great Sri Lankan flood of 2011 . As the aerial photograph shows, Pakistan is largely desert. Would it have been possible to divert the flood waters onto barren land? If so, it might have done a lot of good and might have let us enjoy the great potential beauty of flooded landscapes. The issues involved have much greater significance than the geographic extent of Pakistan: they concern us all. We need to learn, perhaps from the baolis and hauz of India and Pakistan, how to store flood waters and use them over extended periods of time. Every human-used landscape should have plans for floods with return periods of 1-year, 5-years, 25-years, 100-years, 1000-years etc. See diagram for a modest suggestion on how to plan the management of flood landscapes.
What can urban designers do to design for flood resistance? They can exercise their imagination in flood design competitions and contribute to flood charities. Professional people should so some work for money and some work for love. We need floodable buildings, floodable gardens and floodable parks. The photograph below shows part of London (Strand on the Green) where regular flooding is expected, planned-for and enjoyed.
Top image courtesy Richard

7 thoughts on “Flooded urban landscapes are frightening, beautiful, and a call to action by the landscape, architecture and urban design professions

  1. Christine

    ps. It is said that the increasing severity and frequency of the floods in Venice is caused by a combination of the silting of the lagoon and a rise in sea levels due to global warming.

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    There is a long history of urban design responses to the flood problem but the willingness of a modern cities to adopt these measures will depend on the frequency with which they are exposed to floods. If the problem is only going to occur once or twice/century, the economists may calculate that it is better to let the city flood and clear up afterwards. But if I were a home-owner in a flood-risk area I would take my own precautions to protect against flooding and this would probably include the use of an earth bank with a clay core as my garden boundary.

  3. Lawrence

    Hamburg is a city where flooding occurs almost every year. [ http://www.flickr.com/photos/7321171@N08/1935198960/ ]. Both old and new buildings are equipped to deal with this. Floods are caused by storm conditions over the North Sea that prevent the Elbe from discharging its water. There are highest water level markers in many parts of the city [ http://www.flickr.com/photos/rodentizid/4061009576/ ]. The most famous flood was in 1962 when the dykes broke around Wilhelmsburg, flooding a residential area at the cost of 315 lives [ http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Hamburg_Sturmflut_017.jpg&filetimestamp=20070213213320 ]. The 1962 water level has been exceeded several times since then – in 1976 by more than 1 meter – but due to the engineering works that took place subsequent to the Wilhelmsburg disaster there have been no more major events. The height of the flood protection dykes – many of them very old and picturesque [ http://www.flickr.com/photos/christoph_bellin/4976608504/ ] – is a constant preoccupation. After Wilhelmsburg a minimum height of 7.2 m. over benchmark was achieved, the target for 2010 was a minimum height of 8.50 m. New dykes are unfortunately not as romantic as their historic predecessors [ http://www.velo-touren.ch/eigenesweb45/images/Deich.vor%20.Havel.600.96.jpg ] and their engineers hate it when people try to plant trees on them. The raising of the dykes can also have brutal effects on the architectural heritage [ http://www.velo-touren.ch/eigenesweb45/images/Haus.a.Deich.600.51.jpg ].

  4. Christine

    Rather than flooding being confined to a city, the extent of the flooding in the state of queensland alone, is said to be the equivalent of all of France and Germany being underwater.
    [ http://www.3news.co.nz/Queensland-floods-Insurance-may-not-cover-repair-bill/tabid/417/articleID/193308/Default.aspx ]

    Yet in some cases levy banks have been very effective in protecting individual properties and towns. [ http://www.theaustralian.com.au/in-depth/queensland-floods/goondiwindi-mayor-confident-levees-will-hold-as-flood-peak-nears/story-fn7iwx3v-1225987541658 ]. In Goondiwindi the levy held. [ http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2011/01/14/3113324.htm?site=southqld ]


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