Coastal adaptation through flexible land-use

Last changed: 28 March 2022

An interdisciplinary research project that investigates how flexibility in spatial planning and design, flexibility in land use and functions in areas with increased risk of flooding can be a possible strategy for long-term adaptation of coastal areas to rising sea levels and erosion.


Coastal areas are attractive environments and about 50% of Sweden's population lives along the coast and about 74% of the coast has buildings and infrastructure within 300 meters of the coastline. Many coastal cities are planning for new waterfront buildings to attract more municipal residents.

The effects of climate change, such as floods and erosion, are in many cases already a problem today. To deal with such incidents, various protection solutions, such as beach feeding, nature-based solutions or adaptation of buildings, are usually considered. It is less common to consider solutions based on gradually removing risk structures and / or refraining from planning new development in risk-prone areas, which would also enable a dynamic and vibrant shoreline or a gradual change in land use. In the borderline between protection and withdrawal, land could be used for purposes that can be relocated or abandoned when the effects of climate change become too great and too costly to protect against.

The project

COALA (Coastal adaptation through flexible land-use) is an interdisciplinary research project that integrates knowledge and expertise in social sciences, natural sciences, technology, and the humanities. challenges traditional engineering approaches to meet the effects of sea level rise and coastal erosion by shifting focus from flood protection through protective sea walls, barriers, and conventional beach nourishment, to flexible coastal land-use.

The project consists of five main activities (work packages):

  1. Contextualize the planning space for flexible planning to understand the barriers and opportunities of flexible coastal land-use planning in Sweden and Northern Europe (WP1)
  2. Visualize the physical space for flexible land-use to help local and regional decisionmakers identify areas that can be used for more flexible land use functions (WP2)
  3. Visualize future flexible land-use functions based on local knowledge and narratives, interpreted with alternative visual methods within the frame of an art-based platform (WP3)
  4. Conceptualize windows of opportunity in practical space and time for flexible land-use functions (WP4)
  5. Realize the impact space for coastal resilience in Sweden by providing a roadmap for how Swedish coastal cities can work flexibly with coastal resiliency planning (WP5)

COALA will be conducted through the so-called ‘Living Lab’ method in Kalmar County and in Kalmar Municipality to facilitate the involvement of researchers, decision-makers and citizens throughout the project. 


Project leader

Gunnel Göransson, Researcher, Swedish Geotechnical Institute
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Project participants

Carola Wingren, Professor, Division of Landscape Architecture, SLU, +46(0)1867267

Marcus Adolphson, Researcher, Urban and regional studies, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Per Danielsson, National Coordinator Coastal Erosion, Swedish Geotechnical Institute

Jim Hedfors, GIS Engineer, Swedish Geotechnical Institute

Lisa van Well, Researcher, Swedish Geotechnical Institute

Magnus Hieronymus, Researcher, Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute

Magnus Juhlin, Kalmar Municipality 

Carina Järnmark, Kalmar Municipality 

Lars Ljungström, Kalmar County Administrative Board

Madeleine Mårtensson, Kalmar County Administrative Board


Reference group 

Swedish National Board of Housing, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Swedish National Heritage Board, Insurance Sweden, Raoul Wallenberg Institute, World Maritime University, Aarhus School of Architecture, Delft University of Technology, University of Glasgow.

Project time


External funding

Formas Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development