Emerging Ecologies & Urban Design
Exploring the potential role of alternative relationships between nature and culture in the design of socio-ecological coastal landscapes in the littoral zone of the west coast of Sweden


Central in the contemporary debate of urban political ecology is a questioning of the hegemonic notion of nature and the relationship between nature and culture (Tzaninis, Mandler, Kaika and Keil 2020). A significant argument in this debate is that the common notion of nature is an aesthetic socio-cultural construct, driven by our cultural heritage and need to understand, relate to and control our environment, that thus, only exists in our consciousness (Merchant 1990, Evernden 1992, Latour 1993, Latour 2004, Morton 2007). Seen in this light, the contemporary notion and aesthetic vision of nature being something very different from culture is one of the main obstacles of a truly forward- looking strategy for a sustainable socio-ecological future beyond the dichotomy of nature and culture (Haraway 1991, Morton 2013, Latour 2017).

The goal of this research project is to explore what the thinking of alternative relationships between nature and culture from fields of knowledge such as Political Ecology, Ecocriticism and Ecosophy could provide to the practice of urban design and architecture in the design of future socio-ecological urban and rural landscapes. Could this knowledge make possible that the design of these landscapes could be the testing ground for a new relationship between nature and culture, suggesting new models for urban co-existence with nature offering biological, urban and socio-ecological diversity?

The project will use the coastal landscapes in the littoral zone of the west coast of Sweden as its cases of study. The littoral zone of the west coast of Sweden is an interesting territory of multiple, interconnected, overlapping, conflicting and changing socio-ecological environments, conditions and processes where nature and culture collide:

Shifting Ecologies: Rising sea levels, increased frequency and strength of extreme weather events resulting in flooding, eutrophication due to excessive use of fertiliser in agriculture, invasive species and declining biodiversity.

Increasing pressure of Urbanization and Industrialization: Escalating urbanization and privatization of waterfronts, pollution from inland activities, increasing maritime transport and shipping of oil and cargo, infrastructural projects, bridges, pipelines, cables and dredging and increasing coastal tourism.

Aquatic Resources and Production: Under- and over use of marine resources and potential biotopes for aquatic food production and power generation.

The complexity of these conditions brings both challenges and opportunities for the future of the littoral zone, which calls for new holistic strategies and ways of working with the planning and design of these territories.


PhD project by Carl-Johan Vesterlund


Promotor: Maarten Gheysen

Co-promotor: Yves Schoonjans


*Image credit: European Union, contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data 2021 processed by Sentinel Hub