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Expert insights: Martijn Steenstra

“Failure to take action can be very costly,” warns Martijn Steenstra, climate adaptation expert at Sweco, and at the same time states “By designing climate adaptive cities you can add a lot of value.”

The smartest adaptation actions that every city should take

Urban climate adaptation, and the absence of it, has climbed to the top of the news headlines during the past year.

Climate adaptation has really come to mind lately in the wake of the extreme weather events we witnessed in countries like Germany, Holland and Belgium this past summer. Only 26% of European cities have an adaptation plan and none have managed full-scale adaptation, according to the Sweco Urban Insight report ‘Planning for Climate Adaptation’.

Climate adaptation is not something that can be achieved by carrying out adaptation projects. It needs to be integrated into each and every project in the city today. – Martijn Steenstra, Sweco climate adaptation expert

He really urges cities to take on the adaptation work needed. “You can add a lot of value by designing climate adaptive cities. Value in more attractive public space with green areas for more social interactions and creating more biodiversity. So, there are many reasons, besides climate adaptation itself, to move in the direction of greener cities.”

Martijn Steenstra is clear about what he thinks the smartest actions that every city should take. “Replacing stones and asphalt with greenery is one of the best things to do because often a lot of the stones are just there, but they don’t have a function. There are a lot of paved areas in the city that don’t really serve as byways and are not a place where you really need the pavement either. If you take them out and replace them with greenery, it’s an easy way to adapt.”

“There is also a lot of unused space available on roofs that can be used for more urban greenery and other adaptation measures.”


It is important to take a detailed look at where rainwater can be temporarily stored, according to Martijn Steenstra. “Which streets, parks or playgrounds can be built a bit lower so they can be flooded in case of extreme rainfall?”

Often, much of the work with adaptation is hampered by problems with financing when cities do not feel able to invest themselves. “The money you put into climate adaptation measures is compensated for by the damage that you avoid. Take the damage that heat stress causes, it’s not just healthcare costs, it’s also the loss of productivity in the workspace. Failure to take action can be very costly,” Martijn Steenstra warns.

Martijn Steenstra, climate adaptation expert, Sweco

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