Land Reclamation in Island Cities and the Enclosure of Public Space

Adam Grydehøj

This essay is an excerpt of Terra-Sorta-Firma by Fadi Masoud, published by Actar Publishers

This chapter considers drivers of island city land reclamation as well as land reclamation’s impact on public space. It represents a reworking of material previously published in Grydehøj. [1]

Theorising Between Land And Sea

Over the past few years, researchers have increasingly drawn attention to the importance of land-sea relationships in social and political processes. Such perspectives have emphasized how these processes are simultaneously fluid and crucial for understanding the human and non-human environment (e.g. [2][3] Peters, 2015). [4][5] In the case of islands and archipelagos, the coproduction of land and sea is enhanced, and the urban/island whole is narrated, negotiated, and experienced on its edges.

Such theoretical approaches may be particularly relevant when considering the politics of transformation from water to land. Reclamation, the most commonly used English-language term for the construction of ground where water once had been, is in a sense inappropriate; land reclamation does not typically ‘reclaim’ lost ground at all but instead extends solid ground into new frontiers. Marine spaces often provided the initial rationale for founding human settlements in coastal zones. As a result, terrestrialisation projects – which inevitably alter the nature of adjacent marine spaces, ecosystems, and ‘un-reclaimed’ shorelines as well as drive subsequent adaptation processes – are far from straightforward triumphs of material fixity.


Land Reclamation In Island Cities

Islands are strongly associated with urbanisation: a mix of territorial, defence, and trade benefits have historically made small islands ideal sites for seats of government, military, or economic power. [6] Because many islands have been connected to the mainland through reclamation, we often fail to recognise island cities for what they are. [7] Examples of former islands abound, including Dubrovnik, Manila, Mexico City, and Tyre. Yet there are still many major island cities that have expanded significantly through reclamation but around which the waters have not completely receded, such as Abidjan, Amsterdam, Lagos, Mumbai, St Petersburg, Singapore, and Stockholm.

Figure 1: Map of Copenhagen, mid-19th Century.
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