Toggle menu
We are making some changes to the journal website, including where and how we share our new issues digitally, and where you can access our archived editions. Old issues and articles will continue to be available on this site for the time being.
Please sign in to your member's area to read the latest issue of the journal, and keep an eye out for further updates.

Planning a coastline

By Miriam Garcia Garcia
Galicia in northwest Spain now has a detailed coastal management which consolidates information and enables sustainable decision-making about development. It is an approach that could be applied profitably elsewhere.

Over the last decade, there has been a growing awareness in the province of Galicia in northern Spain, awareness of the shortcomings of the urban growth model that we could describe as ‘without criterion’. This model underlies the area’s intense urbanisation which is producing inefficient urban systems and a series of impacts and disturbances that are not only affecting the perception we have of the coastal littoral landscape, but also the littoral system as a whole (hydrology, habitats and biodiversity, land waste and contamination etc.), endangering its functioning. The consequences include production of impervious soil, fragmentation of the habitat, loss of biodiversity, pressure on the quality of water resources, contamination and waste production and urban dispersal. 
In response to these problems, the first work relating to the Coastal Management Plan of Galicia, (Plan de Ordenación del Litoral, POL) was enacted in the Law 6/2007 (Ley 6/2007) regarding urgent measures for the joint planning of the territory and the littoral by means of an integrated territorial plan. From that time until its endorsement in February 2011, the document was enriched by the contributions of the administrations and individuals involved during the different phases of document development.
Aims and objectives 
The plan aims to be the framework for critical reflection on the different public policies affecting the territory, by facilitating a profound knowledge of the littoral system, its dynamics and landscapes. The final aim is the realisation of a more coherent and sustainable use of the littoral space and an improvement in the quality of life for its local inhabitants as well as for visitors. These general objectives can be divided in two main ideas:
• the establishment of a frame of reference for urban planning in coastal areas based on a series of criteria, principles and general norms;
• the application of regulations related to the conservation, protection and highlighting of coastal areas.
For the consequent development of these two main ideas, we are following a particular framework for the territorial model. This is to:
• identify and characterise the distinct areas and elements included in the delimited area of study of the plan;
• establish the relations existing between these different elements;
• determine the criteria, principles and general norms for each of the elements.
The particular features of the Galician coast (relief, land dynamics, climate, sea tides, vegetation, heritage elements, etc.) make up a complex and varied patchwork. In response, the plan adopts a systemic approach and a relational framework capable of encompassing the complexity of the area studied.
For this reason, the plan integrates regional and landscape planning policies from a holistic understanding of the coast and coastal processes, avoiding reductive approximations based on issues related only to the immediate coastline itself. To reach this goal, the point of departure has been the 2,555 linear kilometres of the Galician coast: this perimeter includes the 432 kilometres of islands, the 464 kilometres of marshlands and finally the 1,659 kilometres of specific littoral perimeter.

Within the boundaries of the plan live 1,299,663 inhabitants in more than 82 municipalities. The analysis of the first watersheds linked directly to the coast, in accordance with the viewsheds from the coastal perimeter, enabled the delimitation of an area of study that was also later adjusted to define the final management area of the plan, covering 215,400 hectares. This area also included all the landscape units directly related to the littoral or coastal dynamics such as the extension of tidal influence in the estuaries, the zones affected by geomorphologic or marine processes (landslides, land levelling, coastal terraces, sedimentary deposits, etc.) and also particular habitat areas and the formation of coastal vegetatation. This data allowed us to acknowledge the magnitude of the territory that the plan covers and the series of dynamics that would necessarily need to be integrated within it. In addition, taking into consideration the relief, including the hydrographical viewsheds, and the different mountain ranges and littoral alignments, the data helped us to define the area that is ‘looking towards the sea’ and which was crucial for the delimitation of the area of study. 
Furthermore, the landscape characterization of the coastal area enabled a vision at a territorial as well as at a human scale. Seven large regions were identified and characterised based on their geomorphologic and lithologic attributes. At a secondary level, geographical variability was established within each of the regions and 35 different internal landscape sectors, each with a high degree of landscape coherence and homogeneity, were established. At a third level, we identified and described 441 coastal landscape units (physiographic) based on the delimited areas of the viewsheds, directly linked to the first line of the coast and coinciding with the watersheds, functional or not. At this level, we also described smaller territorial units and a higher level of homogeneity, which can be perceived at the scale of the inhabitant, thus facilitating a direct reading of the plan.
The main determinant of the master plan is the great variation in its constitutive elements, factors of change and processes evident in the territory it covers.  On the one hand we can mention the factors related to specific marine dynamics corresponding to the coast type (sedimentary or cliff formations): change in the foreshore areas, coastal sand dune systems, and cliff edges. For example, 863 beaches and 71 sand dune systems were studied and characterised ex novo, and all 
of the cliffs on the Galician coastal perimeter have been classified. 
On the other hand, we can identify the changes in land use and occupation patterns: urban developments, farming and agricultural fields, forest exploitation, as well as mobility and service infrastructures. Thus, 7815 settlements, 7911 heritage elements and 750 observation points have been gathered and classified. Only a multiple factor analysis, at different scales, enabled us to gain the knowledge necessary to establish a new territorial and management model. 

Understanding the underlying dynamics of the coast
The methodology is based on an understanding of the landscape, of the logic and coherence of the processes that shape it, allowing us to objectify decision making in planning.
The methodology employed for exploring and identifying the territory for the management plan and model is based on an understanding of both natural and cultural dynamics. For this reason, we have identified not only the constitutive elements of the territory in the classification of different landscape types, but also the relationships existing between them. We have been able to undertake a qualitative analysis of these elements, which serves as a basis for thoroughly detailing the actual dynamics behind changes in land uses and their relationship, not only to the natural and ecological values but also to cultural and marine heritage, as well as landscape values of the coast.
Planning strategies
The plan uses the analysis and characterization of the landscape as a methodology, enabling a new way to read and map the territory. 
In addition, the plan proposes a model for future occupancy of the coast. Its structure is articulated through different superimposed and complementary elements, in a dynamic process that enables the gathering of the peculiarities of each sphere of study. For this reason, it defines the basis of a green coastal infrastructure composed of elements relating to natural dynamics; along with a proposal for ecological corridors. Additionally, all the human dynamics integrated in the territory that constitute the cultural heritage, material and immaterial, define the ‘brown infrastructure’. The two infrastructures complement each other, making up the environmental and cultural framework of the plan and defining a series of uses and elements that can be used in the different processes of spatial planning.
Above all, this plan is a dynamic tool for management of the coast. For this reason, the plan also establishes a series of norms that articulate future growth proposals and the corresponding levels of compatibility. It also includes requalification of existing built ensembles that are not in accordance with the proposed model.
Achieved goals
The main contribution of the plan to Galician regional planning is to provide guidelines for decision making that allow a sustainable management of the littoral, the recuperation of degraded areas and the conservation of vulnerable ones. The plan constitutes the legal framework as well as the foundation document on the basis of which the 82 municipalities of the province of Galicia have to develop and organise all their public policy with the support of the community.
It also informs the population about the environmental problems that coastal areas are facing and the urgent need for rational and comprehensive management of this territory. The plan can also generate further levels of information. It is the fundamental document for the production of the first catalogues that have as their main subject the coastal landscape of Galicia. Related projects at different scales are also being achieved within the general framework of the plan, such as a network plan for the walkways and itineraries of the Galician coast, which brings the plan into the direct spatial experience of the inhabitants. In addition, an information technology system ensuring a dynamic follow up based on the assessment of environmental indicators has been implemented to achieve ongoing updating of the data related to the plan.
Contribution to coastal management practice
Global concern about sustainable planning and integrated management of coastal zones is relatively recent. Particularly since the 1970s, not only the scientific community but also society in general have become aware of the need to resolve the conflicts appearing in coastal areas. Many countries initiated policies to preserve the coast, especially its cultural and natural heritage. However, mechanisms aimed exclusively at protection have proved inefficient at managing the dynamics of coastal processes, and have been evolving in recent decades towards regional planning and management. 
The Galician plan is an example of this new approach to coastal processes from the perspective of the landscape. This approach is of utmost importance for the planning of future resilient frameworks, using the coast as a laboratory for analysis and proposals within a dual dimension: the characterisation of coastal aspects and the elaboration of proposals to establish the necessary conditions (physical, ecological, sociological, etc.) for intervention. The plan as a dynamic landscape management tool reflects all these critical concerns.
Communication and promotion of the plan is of equal importance. Addressing a general public requires the cartography and mapping produced to be legible and comprehensible not only by the scientific and professional community but by society at large to achieve a wider awareness of coastal issues. Understanding and knowledge of this complex coastal system allows society to understand the territorial model adopted, as well as the decisions made and to engage actively in its application.

Planners: Miriam García García, 
Manuel Borobio Sanchiz
Client/developer: Xunta de Galicia 
Location: Autonomous Community of 
Galicia, Spain
Area: 215400 ha
Realisation: 2009–2011, development ongoing
Awards: Good Practice 2012 by the Comité 
Un-Hábitat, and First Prize in the XII Biennial 
of Spanish Architecture and Urbanism, 2013
Miriam García García is an architect, urban-landscape planner and researcher, dealing with a wide spectrum 
of aspects associated with urban development and regeneration processes. She was director of urban and territorial planning for Cantabria (2003–2007) and is now principal of LANDLAB with projects awarded nationally 
and internationally. She teaches  the landscape masters programmes at the University of Zaragoza, CEU S. Pablo  and Madrid.

Leave a comment

We use cookies to improve the browsing experience for you and others. If you would like to learn more about cookies please view our cookie policy. To accept cookies continue browsing as normal. Continue