Urbanized Estuaries and Deltas. In search for a comprehensive planning and governance. The Lisbon case

Urbanized estuaries and deltas constitute very sensible areas in post-industrial cities, needing for an effectiveness of coordinated policies. They are characterize by a complex system due to the concentration of population in large cities or metropolitan areas, an historical background of consecutive changes in the functional use of the water and its margins, a sensitive ecological system, and the conflicts of the contemporary mix of functions.
Focusing only on this last question, seven sectors converge in the use of the riverfront:

(1) urbanization, including efficient and sustainable transport and traffic systems;

(2) port-economy;

(3) agriculture;

(4) safety;

(5) energy;

(6) natural environment;

(7) water and soil management.


Being systems under a high pressure, contemporary policies, planning and management of estuaries and deltas reflect this complexity, as they are:
(1) Attractive areas for urban (re)development;
(2) Space opportunities for new infrastructures in the consolidated urban areas;
(3) Permanent transformation areas in the economic system, with changes in the port paradigms, the decay in the heavy use of land by the industrialization and the growth of new activities;
(4) Sensitive eco-systems, with dynamics of safeguard in the natural areas that constitute key factors for biodiversity, some times sharing space with agricultural activities;
(5) Essential water resource areas for human supplying and energy production, also knowing dynamics of environmental cleanup.

Moreover, if each of these tendencies presents problems within it, equally important is the occurrence of conflicts between the different perspectives.

Resulting from a sector-orientated practice, estuaries and deltas verify a strong separation of policies and planning approaches, within and between these sectors. Instead, new types of comprehensive approaches need to be implemented, answering to the urgent environmental problems and to the ongoing processes of economic development and (re)urbanization. In addition, a new problem has entered the scene, obliging to the implementation of a comprehensive approach and governance.


Still seen by some sectors as a question only associated to the environment perspective, climate change, resulting into sea-level rise, increase and more intensive discharges of rivers and its effluents and changes in the weather paradigms is now on the international agenda and needs to be locally studied. For climate change, urbanized estuaries and deltas are, again, in the top of the vulnerable areas.


Transforming problems in opportunities, the regard of the impacts of climate change on estuaries and deltas might become a reason for the implementation of new comprehensive approaches on its planning and governance.
In this context, the project presents as objective the study of urbanized estuaries and deltas, having as case study the Tagus Estuary.

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Date: 2009/2014

Coordination: João Pedro Costa, João Figueira de Sousa (team FCSH|UNL).

Team: Leonel Fadigas, Carlos Dias Coelho, Maria Clara Mendes, Filipa Serpa, Maria Matos Silva, André Nouri, Luís Dias, Luiza Barone e Joana Caldeira (team FA|ULisboa), André Fernandes, Sónia Galileu (FCSH|UNL).

Partners: Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas da Universidade Nova de Lisboa

Funding: FCT, ref. PTDC/AUR-URB/100309/2008