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Building with Nature Guideline

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Building with Nature Guideline > Ports and cities > Ports & Cities environment 

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Ports & Cities environment


Ports and delta cities are environments where high resource depletion, pollutant emissions and human population density are concentrating. This constitutes a real challenge regarding reducing pressures on the environment and society. Important pressures in port and delta city environments include contamination, sewerage, land reclamation, construction & dredging, regulation of water levels and shipping. Physical alterations of the port environment caused by human activities (e.g. dredging, construction of locks and pumps) change the natural characteristics of shorelines, which subsequently can lead to problems such as unnaturally high sedimentation rates or a decrease in fish migration opportunities. Due to climate change and the associated (enhanced) sea level rise, the pressure on ports and delta cities will further increase.


The Building with Nature concept can contribute to solving the challenges in ports and delta cities in such a way that ecological, economic and societal benefits are combined. Building with Nature solutions can for example contribute to reduce the ecological footprint of port infrastructures while developing (new) ports (e.g. by enhancing the nursery function for fish) and can be applied to reduce flood risk and improve sediment management (e.g. by creating natural slopes enhancing wave attenuation, optimising dredging strategies and flow patterns). Additional benefits include the creation of attractive, green living environments within the densely populated cities.


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System description

The physical/ecological conditions in port and delta city environments can be very diverse, since they may occur in a range of climates and environments. To be able to apply Building with Nature solutions it is important to fully understand the system of interest, not only the physical/ecological conditions, but also human activities/pressures and governance processes.


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Ecosystem services

The ecosystems of ports and coastal cities provide multiple resources and processes from which mankind can benefit. These benefits are known as ecosystem services. In 2004, the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) (see e.g. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005) and more recently 'The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity' (TEEB) studies, divided the ecosystem services into four categories:

  • provision, such as the production of food and water;
  • regulation, such as the control of climate and disease;
  • cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits;
  • support, such as nutrient cycles.


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Building with nature opportunities

Although the available space can be limited, both ports and cities offer numerous opportunities for the application of Building with Nature. In ports, the focus mainly lies on sediment management (e.g. clay ripening). In cities the focus of Building with Nature measures mainly lies on flood protection measures (e.g. mangrove/salt marsh restoration) and combining the creation of opportunities for flora and fauna with improving the spatial quality of the city (e.g. construction of tidal parks).  Under 'Read more' an overview is given of BwN options for ports and cities including their relation with ecosystem services. Also, some examples of projects are given.


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So far, the different projects in ports and cities within the Building with Nature programme have taught us a number of lessons. These concern the physical and ecological processes, but also bio-physical interactions and governance. 


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