Climate Change — City Planning Disconnect

At the same time as climate change leaders admonish that humankind cannot do enough to prevent a predicted massive change in the environment that will result in a significant rise in sea levels, let alone an increase in flooding, storm surge and other extreme weather that will further wreak havoc on the world’s coastlines, there is a resurgence of city planning leaders who propose to relocate residents of what they now claim to be an ill-conceived suburbia system back into major cities through “densification” – but not into “Sunbelt” or “Sandbelt” cities (either not energy-efficient or not a preferred cultural or physical environment of the planning elite).  Often the two leadership groups share each others’ primary tenets.  Let’s ask the question that arises from this well-publicized, anticipated merger of conditions and goals:

Why do you want to relocate millions of people to the very same cities that you state millions will be driven from by rising sea levels?

Why do you promote (and award) projects that densify, make the urban (manmade) shoreline more “livable” for multi-use by an increased population when that shoreline area, you aver, will be subject to destruction, be underwater in many cases – uninhabitable?

Granted, a small but increasing number of coastal communities are actively planning how to protect their towns and infrastructure from rising sea levels.  Codes are being considered to cause new improvements to be flood-proofed as often occurs in river flood zones and floodplains.  Where climate change sea level rise is predicted to inundate significant urbanized resources, a very few jurisdictions are beginning to plan how to relocate those resources to “higher ground”, buying time for relocation (and for obsolescence of existing resources to occur for the best economy) with temporary (decades? centuries?) protective structures.  Where old infrastructure needs replacement, a few cities are beginning to plan adequately protected replacement facilities.  A few.   Whether or not you agree with the climate change or the urban densification folks,

What is the status of your city’s planning and implementation of such actions?

Perhaps we should ask to see more design competitions that accomplish such sea-proofing of existing cities planned for “densification” – very soon – as well as implementation plans including economic impact and financing sources?  A few that have been published merely tout megastructures somehow propped up in the air above the water inundation areas.  Perhaps, if the tenets of the two groups are without question or merely prudent based upon other circumstances, no urban “densification” proposal for coastal cities should be allowed without first demonstrating its safety in the light of predicted higher sea levels 

That would, of course, need to be a systemic solution, because the existing infrastructure will remain in use long after many of the development proposals are intended to be implemented – assuming that existing necessary services have been themselves protected in the meanwhile! 

Venice "Aqua Alta" (c)2009 Randy D. Bosch

Venice "Aqua Alta" (c)2009 Randy D. Bosch

The proposals revealed to date almost completely lack such a systemic solution.  You may want to check to be sure that your new urban digs have a large tank on the roof for domestic and fire protection water, an electrical generator, waste storage tanks, no underground parking, and even a structure that won’t “pop” out of the ground when water pressure builds in surrounding soils!  Also, do not forget adequate and updated food storage, medications, rooftop helipad for emergencies, and a “work from home” job!  A “waterdoor” for your small boat storage (with variable water level access) next to the garage (above waterline) would be useful – like in Venice, Italy!  Then, there is the airport, the fire and police stations, the hospital, the port facilities, fuel storage depots, and a long list of other essential service locations, that need to be relocated or protected in place AND provided with housing for personnel on-site as well as watercraft.  Most commercial uses are ground floor, and of course access to multi-story buildings, so another layer of protection is necessary to maintain a functioning community.

The climate change predictors have essentially said that it is too late to accomplish much of this effort.

The appearance of sarcasm might be inferred by some reading this article, but it is written with the positive intent of waking up citizens, leaders and planners to the FULL implications of a “roll the suburbs back into the dense older cities” policy advocated by some.  Many of the “chosen” cities for “densification” have substantial “at risk” areas NOW, not only from current and historic natural hazards (Katrina anyone?) but, according to the maps of predicted sea level rise, from that PERMANENT hazard as well.  Some of those maps do not seem to take into account that the existing natural hazards and fluctuations will be added ON TOP OF the existing ones, including tidal action, hurricane storm surges, and tsunamis.

While that enormous challenge is being comprehended and solved, please do not forget about mitigation of similar catastrophic losses repeated again and again within cities in other areas – by wildfire, river flooding, massive earthquakes, plague, war or resource depletion.

Sometimes, there is actually a good reason to relocate out of the existing big city – if common sense planning and implementation does not occur to mitigate predicted environmental challenges.  Venice grew “on shore” and is working to protect the rest.  Atlantis was abandoned, Pompeii was buried, and many other ancient cities have been found buried in jungle, sea or sand, outmoded or overwhelmed for some reason or other and their societies wasted or relocated.

Take a look at the climate change/sea level change maps of YOUR city.  Much of the predicted inundation corresponds to areas that were at or below sea level that city “planners” or laissez-faire development policies allowed to be FILLED long ago (San Francisco, New York, Boston, Rotterdam, etc.).  Many urban areas are now catastrophically damaged time and time again, and rebuilt at great expense again, again and again – apparently without “lessons learned” applied to the effort, let alone consideration of actual community relocation.  A few towns along the Mississippi, tired of that repetitious calamity HAVE relocated – with immense outside assistance – to high ground, leaving non-essential and culturally significant facilities in harm’s way but saving lives, commerce and property.  Perhaps it is time for them to teach the big cities “in harm’s way” a few hard-won lessons. 

And, many of the more intelligently planned suburbs are starting to look a little better, after all!

The widespread ignoring of these concerns necessitates repeating the somewhat crass admonition, “Don’t double-down on stupid”, and to ask our “leaders” if they know,

What was that definition of insanity again?

About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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