Embracing the waters

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Sustainable cities will welcome floods rather than building defences, say futurologists at the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Houses on telescopic stilts, recyclable houses and school boats are all ideas for how cities can respond to the increased risk of flooding from climate change, according to the Royal Institute of British Architects’ think tank, Building Futures.

The report 'Living with Water', launched last month, says that urban planning for flood plains needs to tolerate and welcome floodwater rather than holding it back behind ever sturdier flood defences.

The Thames Gateway area of London could be turned into a water land where water is used for heating or transport, and where arable land is located in frequently flooded areas. Houses and roads could be built on telescopic legs to rise and fall with the floodwaters, or could be moved or recycled as sea levels rise.

As the original residents of towns facing future flooding like Stanford-Le-Hope in the Thames Estuary leave, the areas could be exempted from planning laws permitting self-sufficient squatter communities to form.

The report comes at a time when the World Water Week conference, held last week, called for new models of urban planning to mitigate against sea level rise caused by melting glaciers and thermal expansion of the oceans due to rising global temperatures. 80 per cent of the world’s population lives less than 50 km from a coast.

“Living with Water” can be read at: http://www.buildingfutures.org.uk/research_project.php?myid=15

This article first appeared in the Ecologist August 2007