We can safeguard a structure from sea level rise.
Why not a climate-proof neighborhood?
Swale, an open-to-all garden on a 130′ x 40′ barge in Brooklyn, floats in the East River. It provides new public space and, because it’s on the water, Swale avoids the city’s prohibition on growing and picking food in public areas. It also rises with short-term surge or long-term sea level rise!
Rising seas are predicted to seriously threaten big portions of our coast. Acres and acres of urban waterfront were once tidelands, then filled over time for industrial uses. Today they’re in danger of being reclaimed by the sea. Would putting stuff on floating structures save our urban shores and give us more climate-proof transportation, housing, agriculture or businesses? Certainly in many places, like Dubai, a climate-proof neighborhood is being designed, even created, based on floating all the elements at risk from sea-level rise or storm surge.
But floating is not the only way to keep a community from being damaged by storm surge or rain flooding. Developers and planners are looking at structures that don’t float but can still withstand storm surge. Or retain stormwater to lessen flooding nearby. Methods include floodable basements, green roofs, and rain gardens. Park areas, playing fields, parking lots, and even roads can be designed to flood occasionally, capturing water and releasing it as the rain or storm surge subsides. Additional features, such as constructed wetlands, swales, and permeable pavement, can slow the flow of unwanted water and encourage it to seep into the ground. A few elevated streets could assure access to important buildings during a flood.
Want ideas for your town? The recent Living with Water competition in Boston elicited dozens.
[This post first appeared November 25, 2016. It has been updated and expanded.]