What a ‘sponge city’ designed to withstand extreme flooding looks like

Read the full story in Time.

Most cities today are not built to handle the kind of extreme weather that climate change inflicts. The asphalt and concrete that are the building blocks of the modern metropolis absorb heat, making heatwaves hotter. Those same materials, used to construct buildings and pave over the wetlands and streams that predated urban development, also repel water, leaving it nowhere to go. And that, as residents of Vienna, Berlin, and other European cities learned the hard way last year, can lead to devastating storm surges and flash floods.

Sponge cities provide one solution. Urban designer Yu Konjian first articulated the idea in 2012 after flooding wreaked havoc on dozens of cities in his native China. Instead of paving over the land with impermeable concrete and asphalt, he proposed adding green spaces that could act like sponges and absorb excess rain water. Instead of a “gray” infrastructure of pipes and dams that whisk water away from the city and dump it into rivers or the sea—systems that are prone to overflowing during storms and wearing out with time—sponge cities would use simple gravity to channel water steadily into soil where it could support plant life, or into reservoirs where it could be stored and repurposed. In other words, the sponge city would replicate the natural water cycle.

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