By 2015, an estimated 80 percent of the world's megacities will be located in fragile river deltas. Smart planning will be at the forefront of striking a balance among economics, environment, and equity.

Delta Urbanism

In fall of 2011, the world population hit the 7 billion mark. Also making headlines around the world around the same time was the severe flooding that engulfed Bangkok, Thailand, and disrupted the lives of millions of people for months.

The devastation in Bangkok is one of many examples illustrating why smart planning processes should be implemented to strike economic, environmental, and social balances for coastal cities. Smart planning will also allow cities to navigate the challenges posed by a growing population, urbanization, and climate change, which is especially critical considering that by 2015, an estimated 80 percent of the world's megacities will be located in fragile river deltas. 

River deltas — the land masses formed where rivers flow into lakes, oceans, or other bodies of water — are some of the world's most fragile ecosystems. Although prone to flooding, land subsidence, and natural disasters (such as hurricanes and typhoons), these areas also offer unprecedented economic opportunity: fertile soil, waterways for shipping, and valuable aquaculture. Vibrant cities such as New Orleans; Rotterdam; Venice; Alexandria, Egypt; and the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento region all count themselves among delta-impacted cities and share many similar concerns.

During the past six years, the American Planning Association has focused its efforts on seven programs. The 2012 Delta Urbanism Symposium titled Coastal Cities, Hazards, and Climate Change (see box above) is the third symposium in the three-year series.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf States in 2005, the American Planning Association led the discussion on the role of urban planning in the recovery of New Orleans with projects such as the Slidell Planning Assistance Team and the Dutch Dialogues.

Support for these efforts has also come from APA’s Hazards Planning Research Center.

American Planning Association representatives have participated in study tours with the U.S. EPA and a Congressional delegation to the Netherlands. Read the Sustaining Places blog posts for more detail. APA has also participated in the Aquaterra Conference and International Water Week.

APA Planners Press published Delta Urbanism: The Netherlands and Delta Urbanism: New Orleans in 2010.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a symposium sponsor, has published "Resilient Coastal City Regions," the subject of the 2012 opening session. Lincoln also published online white papers from the 2010 and 2011 symposia. 

Adaptation to Climate Change in Developing Country Urban Deltas, May 2011

Urban Development and Climate Change in the Pearl River Delta, July 2010

Climate Change and Urbanization in the Yangtze River Delta, June 2010

Climate Change and the Resilience of New Orleans, August 2009

The American Planning Association continues its engagement with the international delta community through the Delta Alliance and similar organizations.



Dale Morris of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington, D.C., and David Waggonner of Waggonner and Ball Architects based in New Orleans discuss the purpose and outcomes of the Dutch Dialogues series held in New Orleans.