Developing the Littoral Gradient

Half of the world’s population lives within a 100 km of a coastline. Where the demand for additional land for real estate is becoming steadily more acute, expansion through land reclamation has been the preferred solution. While the relationship between real-estate values and coastlines has long been established, and proposals for coastal planning are plentiful, this proposal looks at land reclamation as an untapped lens for evaluating and developing adaptive forms of coastal urbanization.

Globally, the success of projects on reclaimed land has proven to be variable. In some places the cost of reclamation has not added up to the value of the original master plan, leaving behind acres of undeveloped plots. In other cases the success has increased the value of coastal properties resulting in exclusive development projects that limit affordability and diversity of form. In both instances, increased exposure to the sea’s variability, the rising stock of the construction material, and the cost of the maintenance of artificial terrains, is putting into place a reconsideration of the value of these developments and the process of land reclamation itself.

In China, reclamation has been heavily associated with real estate development and the protection of agricultural land. Between 1949 and 2010, China reclaimed 13,380 km2 of land and expanded its coastline by almost 2,000 km. In 2010 alone, it reclaimed 135 km2 of land resulting in earnings of more than 7.82 billion yuan (US$1.27 Billion). An underplayed link between the costs associated with reclaiming land, housing affordability, ecological consequences, and the resulting inflexible forms of urbanization is becoming increasingly evident.

This proposal stems out of the need for a more robust environmental strategy currently being developed by major international dredging companies, the need to protect agricultural lands, and the acknowledgment that the Yellow Sea coastal zone is continuously under development pressures. Our interdisciplinary team is comprised of researchers, practitioners, and academics from MIT and Peking University with affiliates at Turenscape. The research is broken into two primary branches with two major milestones. Part I, is a first of its kind case-study “atlas” of coastal real-estate development projects built on reclaimed land in China. The atlas combines a series of parameters that include environmental, typological, and economic factors to form a research-based quantitative analysis of development on reclaimed land. Part II looks at prototyping and designing new models for real-estate developments on reclaimed land. It starts by evaluating existing processes, and based on the research generated by the “atlas”, devise ecologically viable and economically profitable, innovative guidelines and developmental frameworks for coastal urbanization on reclaimed land.

Instead of approaching coastal development as a matter of defense or retreat, we view the integration of social, technological, ecological, and developmental pressures as an occasion to design and propose novel, resilient, adaptive, and profitable real-estate developments on new forms of dynamic and flexible reclaimed land in China and beyond.

Image credit: Xiaoxuan Lu - Tianjin 

This research is supported by the Samuel Tak Lee Real Estate Entrepreneurship Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Fall 2015