Will Aucklanders walk on water?

DELWYN DICKEY
Last updated 09:15 21/08/2014
artisits impression of Auckland
Urbia Group

SURGE PROTECTION: An artist’s impression of artificial islands to take the energy out of storm surges.

BERND GUNDERMANN
BERND GUNDERMANN: We do have time to make changes but we need to start testing and fine tuning solutions.

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Imagine an Auckland waterfront dotted with plant covered artificial islands and towers, living artificial reefs of mussels and oysters to take the energy out of storm surges.

Coastal wetlands that people can use for recreation, roof gardens and lawns to help soak up heavier downpours.

A commercial waterfront area of high-rise buildings on stilts sitting over a coastal wetland with access by boardwalks is a possibility too.

Other areas might have clusters of homes built to float in calm waters, rising and falling with the tide.

That's the vision for Auckland presented by climate change adaption architect and urban designer Bernd Gundermann to the Environmental Defence Society's annual conference this month.

Auckland's downtown waterfront's challenges will come mostly from storm surges. Much of the land was reclaimed in the 1850s and 1860s and it is more susceptible to aggressive coastal erosion, Gundermann said.

Tamaki Dr already floods regularly in bad weather and is an obvious spot to turn into wetlands, he said.

Large bags filled with dredgings from the port could be dropped offshore to make artificial islands, with currents naturally building up sediment around them. Topped with sediment and planted up they would act as wave breakers well before the shore.

Managed retreat from some areas will be part of those solutions as levels rise, but retro engineering buildings to make coastal wetlands will create beautiful connections with the sea rather than ugly ones, Gundermann believes.

"The changes coming are going to happen over generations," he said.

"When you see how quickly the Wynyard Quarter has been developed we have the same amount of time, probably more, to redevelop low lying coastal CBD areas to new standards."

But testing and fine tuning of these solutions need to begin now before sea levels start accelerating in the second half of this century, Gundermann said.

Kiwis are falling behind climate change innovation coming out of the Nordic countries and northern Europe, and the "just do it" attitude of some United States cities, he said.

His address followed a live stream talk from Denmark with Copenhagen mayor Morten Kabell on the adaptation measures that city is using.

Here, we tend to be much more timid in our approach, Gundermann said.

Sea walls may be appropriate in some places, but Gundermann believes resilience means living with encroaching water rather than trying to keep it out. This will be much cheaper in the long run, but will also help communities build resilience, he said.

Auckland is a beautiful city, and while it will change it's still going to be beautiful in the future, he said.

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- Rodney Times

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