Sat 24 August 2013, by Noémie BACK

(bio)Diversity as key driver in adaptive capacity of cities

With last year’s record high temperatures and droughts in the USA the general public seems to catch on to the fact that climate change is upon us[1]. Coupled with the recent superstorm Sandy and hurricane Irene (2011) the estimated damages run into the multiple 10’s of Billions of $’s. The resulting economic, ecological and socio cultural loss is undeniable not only for individual citizens but also for businesses and society as a whole.
As an illustration of the potential effect superstorm Sandy has on New York City, Michael Kimmelman[2] identified the persisting vulnerability to hurricanes as a threat to the economic resilience of New York City, leading to the closure of small businesses, and the relocation of financial power houses, like Goldman Sachs.
The design for the ‘Ecological Productive Infrastructures of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in 2030’ is exploring an integrated systems approach to sustainable design for the built environment. Started as an exploration on how to refocus the architectural designer into a role of addressing ‘real’ issues, the design question developed from ‘Design a new transportation hub’ into “How can the PABT support life in an ever-changing world”?
The design strategy for the PABT integrates a man-made infrastructure with a natural infrastructure and focuses on root cause mitigation of climate change, improving system resilience and absorption capacity, and improving well-being.
Which steps are then necessary to turn this thought-provoking design into a reality? Is a design solution, integrating man-made and natural elements and focused on diversity, a viable alternative to conventional ‘single issue’ solutions, aimed at ‘blocking out the water’? Does the creation of additional real value from an economic, ecological and socio cultural standpoint outweigh the added complexity? What is this additional value?
The ‘Shared Value Stakeholder Proposition’, developed with the design for the PABT, is a tool aimed at exploring these questions. The qualitative model allows a range of PABT stakeholders to understand which design features support their mission, and what value is ‘generated’. It is a first step to understand how the new PABT supports life, and helps to pinpoint how solutions not only protect us but also deliver other values that make the investments worth further consideration.
The Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6 salt marsh, designed by Michael van Valkenburgh Ass., is an interesting example of how natural elements can increase absorption capacity, while creating a wealth of other (recreational and other) benefits.  An inspection after hurricane Sandy showed the park survived with hardly a scratch, proving the value of installing natural edges along waterfronts[3]. In contrast, the engineered fortifications on Sandy Beach, have been proven to contribute to the permanent loss of beach sand, requiring even higher walls for ongoing protection[4].
Given the damage sustained, and the massive investments that conventional solutions require, the challenge seems not to be about money. Also technology is not the issue, given the wealth of studies and design proposals available. The challenge here seems to be to connect all relevant stakeholders to the benefits or value that an integrated design, like that for the PABT, brings.
A basic understanding of the underlying design principles of the project helps to better understand the structure, content and outcomes of the Shared Value Stakeholder Proposition’. The key elements for building a ‘Shared Value Stakeholder Proposition’ are stakeholder analysis and ecosystem services[5], as a starting point for identifying ‘value’, and the PABT design features.


Article wrote by Peter de Ruijter ( in the framework of our collaboration for the Ecological Productive Infrastructures of the Port Authority Bus Terminal – New York City.