Bikes in a city.

Risk management through land-use planning

Written by Helena Paulsson
Future Cities Insight #11 Risk management through land-use planning
The societies of today are complex, with many dependencies. Therefore, risk management must be a joint effort - and land-use planning is an important element.

No one stakeholder can perform all risk management necessary in society, but all can contribute. The process needs to be facilitated by a few central authorities and organisations, but performed locally.

If we fail to consider the full range of possible threats when planning cities, we risk overlooking potentially devastating events, and we allow vulnerabilities to be built into our surroundings. This is especially important when planning critical societal functions, such as water supply, communications infrastructure and facilities for emergency services – functions on which we depend to ensure the safety of current and future citizens.

In a recent thesis, it was concluded that existing knowledge risk and vulnerability is not being utilised in land-use planning, especially as it relates to critical societal functions. As edifices were often planned and designed when flooding and climate change was not yet perceived as an issue, they tend to be located outside of densely populated areas. But if, for instance, a hospital is placed on a flood plain, this poses a risk not only to the hospital as a building, but to everyone served by that hospital.

Furthermore, in this interconnected world, the vulnerability of a facility or element of infrastructure is dependent upon its environment. Risks and vulnerabilities can be increased as well as mitigated through changes in the surrounding environment. A roll of the dice, unless structured land-use planning is practiced. Therefore, there is unused potential in the land-use planning process, and a lot to be gained by simply involving actors with knowledge of local vulnerabilities.

Risk management for our most important buildings and structures appears hindered by a lack of insight into which parties should be involved, and what their roles, responsibilities and mandates should be. The central question is: if we do not utilise considerable amounts of existing knowledge on how to prevent risk and vulnerability, can we honestly say that we are doing our best to protect cites against accidents and crises?

In this interconnected society, we need to broaden our perspective and improve our knowledge of how one field of expertise affects another. But most importantly: when planning our cities, we need to utilise the risk management expertise already available, to avoid re-inventing the wheel.

Authors: Louise Ekvall & Erik Nilsson, thesis workers, Safety


Helena Paulsson

VP and Head of BA Architecture and Design