Local adaptation strategies to bring about flood resilience in Chennai Metropolitan Area, India

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This project is set in the Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA) in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. Currently spanning 1189 sq. km, the region forms a unique delta with three rivers, namely, the Koshashtalaiyar, Coovum and Adyar, which eventually drain into the Bay of Bengal. With an estimated population of 10 million and a population density of 9900 per sq. Km, the CMA is the fourth largest metropolitan region in India and forms the country’s fourth largest economy (Statistics, 2017). The region has undergone substantial industrial growth in the last two decades and is still rapidly urbanizing, often in conflict with the natural hydrological patterns. Meanwhile, due to its deltaic nature, the CMA is naturally prone to floods from mainly extreme rainfall and cyclonic activities. As a result, Chennai has faced an aggravated risk of flooding and in 2015 was devastated by a 100-year flood event. The frequency and intensity of these events are projected to increase due to climate change. Set in this context, this project addresses local adaptation strategies by building socio-ecological resilience at the neighbourhood level. Rapid urbanisation has led to the rupture of the traditional drainage network which was once the flat terrain region’s flood defence mechanism. The main problem recognised is hence understood as a conflict between human and nature and attempts a shift towards socio-ecological harmonies. For this purpose, the relevance of social capital was identified as a crucial link to design for local resilience. Hence, social and cultural networks were used as leverage to link economic aspirations and environmental restoration. This was set within a theoretical framework comprising of the works of Davoudi (2012) and Wilson (2012). To recognise the spatial manifestation of this conflict and to tap into social capital, the edges and community infrastructure were identified respectively. The water edges which are the transition zones from the human to the natural environment were mismanaged and left untreated, in turn influencing perception and its subsequent neglect from regional functionalities. To tackle this neglect and reintegrate these hydrological elements with daily life, community infrastructure was used as the tangible medium to bring people together, engage them and in turn create a sense of ownership and responsibility. Hence the strategies used were that of first designing an integrated water network across multiple scales, second, identifying community infrastructure and open spaces that can support the functioning of the system and third, designing interactions between people and the environmental to motivate them to engage and maintain the network. Together the project made a strong case for using socio-cultural networks and contextually grounded strategies to bring about a collective community based restoration process.