Sponge Cities to Combat Flooding Caused By Climate Change

Article: Meet the Architect Whose Revolutionary “Sponge Cities” are Helping Combat Climate Change, by Siyuan Meng

Article: Should Los Angeles Transform Itself In A Sponge City, by AHBELAB

Post by Joshua Herrig, jlh2208

Sustainability Problem: Climate change is causing the temperature and sea levels to rise, thus causing flooding and storm surges in cities around the world. Since 2008, the number of Chinese cities affected by flooding has more than doubled. During 2019 alone, the United States was impacted by 14 separate billion-dollar disasters including 3 major inland floods, 8 severe storms and 2 tropical cyclones.

Solution: The “sponge city,” an idea created developed by landscape architect Dr. Yu Kongjian, is “one that is designed to retain, clean, and reuse stormwater.”

Dr Yu Kongjian founded and runs the architecture firm Turenscape and they have over 500 designs built and implemented around the world, but especially in China.

Inspired by peasant farming techniques, such as irrigation systems used in Chinese mulberry fish ponds, Turenscape uses nature based solutions to solve ecological problems.

Yu calls the design concept “negative planning” a term that means to put green spaces at the core of city panning. The sponge city designs include developing rooftop gardens, ponds, filtration pools, and wetlands, with permeable roads and public spaces designed to soak rainwater back into the ground.

The sponge city concept is the same for every project, however the specifics change depending on the location. For instance, in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, Dr Yu and his team revitalized a dying wet-land with a cut-and-fill strategy that added ponds and mud flats to already existing wetlands while in Shanghai Houtain they transformed a former industrialized site into a natural water treatment center, which cleans up 634,000 gallons of water daily.

The sponge city design not only lowers the risk of flooding but also increases biodiversity, decreases pollution, stops combined sewer overflow, and may even make citizens happier through access to beautiful park space.

Stakeholders: Turenscape architecture firm, city and country government, citizens of the city, (in America or Europe: NGOs that want to revitalize areas, and various neighborhood groups that surround the landscape)

3 Steps in Deploying: 1. Design sponge city landscape based off of the area’s needs, 2. Convince city government and perhaps big business donors as well as local citizens that the design should be built 3. Build the design

I found this part of the article rather enlightening in how Dr Yu was able to deploy the idea of the sponge city in China, despite some resistance: “Part of Yu’s success in China has been his ability to have the ears of the country’s top leadership. After being implemented as an integral part of China’s “ecological civilization” movement — which effectively made sustainability part of nationwide urban planning policy — Yu says that the model was more quickly implemented into a wider range of projects.ur He adds that he has delivered over 300 lectures to mayors around China, and a book documenting the subsequent conversations with these figures has been reprinted over 15 times. The book was later published in English as Letters to the Leaders of China: Kongjian Yu and the Future of the Chinese City in 2018.”


3 thoughts on “Sponge Cities to Combat Flooding Caused By Climate Change

  1. Hi Josh, This was a super interesting post–thank you for sharing! Prior to reading it, I too, like many Angelenos, was unfamiliar with the notion of a sponge city. But after reading these articles, sponge cities seem relevant and necessary, especially with El Nino and La Nina occurring on average every two to seven years per NOAA (https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/ninonina.html). I also found it cool how sponge city elements span a myriad of options like rooftop gardens, ponds, filtration pools, wetlands, permeable roads and public spaces, all of which are designed to hold, clean and drain water naturally. Thanks again for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing this article – I hd never heard of this concept of the “sponge city” and found it extremely interesting. This idea of using nature based solutions to solve ecological problems sparks thought in the numerous different ways biomimicry (https://biomimicry.org/) could be applied to tackle drought issues in LA. I would also be interested to know some of the challenges faced in Jinhua City, as well as the the baseline costs of the project to assess whether it could be feasible in LA.


  3. Thank you for sharing this Josh. This is really cool and reminds me of a news article I came across recently with the Maldives Floating City concept. Giant new reefs are being grown to act as water breakers and the city has proposed to “rise with the waves if we cannot stop the waves.” I believe the company working on this is called Dutch Docklands in partnership with Waterstudio which is developing floating social housing in the Netherlands. I think it’s great that there are such creative nature-centric solutions to the climate change threats. Infrastructure needs to evolve with the changing needs of each country.


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