The Coastal Virginia area (Hampton Roads) is ground zero with regard to sea level rise and climate change. Businesses, individuals and our government need to act now in developing a plan that will help mitigate the tremendous risk we face. Without proper planning and action, our area faces an uncertain future. Soon, businesses will fail to invest in the area and will choose to find higher ground elsewhere. Residents will also flee the rising tide. Purchasing a home in an area that will experience frequent flooding is too risky for most people.
We have two options to deal with this threat: Abandon the area and move to higher ground or build protective barriers to lessen or remove the risk.
To me, the first option is not economically sensible. The area is home to more that 1.7 million people and tens of thousands of businesses. And it’s home to the largest Naval base in the world. The overall investment here is extraordinary. Moving is really not a viable option.
The second option is really the only intelligent choice: build protective barriers. And there are models of this working in other parts of the world that show it’s not only possible, but prudent. I’ve visited two of these areas that are prime examples of its effectiveness: the Netherlands and New Orleans. Both areas are below sea level in many locations. They both have prospered in spite of their geographic challenges.
How can strategic design help?
We now have the ability to create models of various solutions to test the effectiveness based on possible challenges, like a Category 5 hurricane. With the proper investment in creating a holistic view of our area that factors in as many interconnections as possible, we can anticipate the impact and costs of various solutions. And with this model, we can explore many options to make sure we select the best choice. Continually iterating and optimizing designs based on various challenges will make our decision easily justifiable.
This is just as critical as the modeling itself. And perhaps just as challenging. Without careful communication to all stakeholders (residents, businesses, policy-makers), this overall effort will probably fail. We need to communicate the challenges, the solutions, the costs in a clear and impactful way to each stakeholder to show the reasons this effort must be implemented. And give stakeholders a chance to voice their concerns and help shape the direction.
By utilizing the principles outlined above — impact modeling and effective communications — Coastal Virginia residents and businesses can grow and thrive from climate solutions. Without it, we will all probably drown in indecision and inaction.