Coastal residents fear ‘ugly’ sea walls will obstruct waterfront views | sea ​​level

There have been more than a few issues with a recent federal plan for the wall Miami risks of climate change.

The $5 billion proposal included the construction of a massive concrete seawall in New York City fragile marine ecosystem from Biscayne Bay. It included the use of taxpayers’ money to raise Private mansions on the waterfront, while Build a wall through Downtown and sometimes lower-income neighborhoods.

But the idea of ​​an imposing seawall was also – in the eyes of many residents – unforgivably ugly. Miami’s Downtown Development Authority, which was His annoyance was reported Anticipating massive concrete slabs, brought in an architectural firm that created designs that depict the seawall scheme as an almost dystopian vision of the future, It has gray walls Disfigured with graffiti saying “Berlin” circling a moat of dirty water.

This helped galvanize opposition that has become so intense that the project is now Back to the drawing board.

It may seem absurd to focus on the aesthetics of a project that proponents hope will protect Miami from future storm surges. It can flatten homes and kill thousands of people – A risk that is getting more serious every day due to climate change. But the residents, environmentalists, businessmen and politicians struggling to amend this latest seawall proposal see the battle in existential terms: They are trying to preserve the city’s soul.

“Miami is about our connection to the water,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of environmental research and advocacy group Miami Water Keeper. “At no point will people want to live here anymore because of the solution they’re proposing, which is so devastating to our community and our identity.”

Seawall at low tide along the waterfront of Plymouth Beach, Massachusetts.
Seawall at low tide along the waterfront of Plymouth Beach, Massachusetts. Photo credit: Dee Browning/Alamy

Up and down the coasts of the United States, cities as diverse as New YorkAnd CharlestonAnd NorfolkAnd Houston And San Francisco You’re staring at the same dilemma: High concrete walls could technically protect homes and properties from rising seas caused by climate change, but the proposals are likely to be so atrocious that some locals reject them.

“The battles are about many of the same issues,” said Billy Fleming, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design who specializes in adapting to climate change. “It’s about people worrying about what these seawall proposals might do to the visual character of a place.”

Coastal communities have it for decades Warnings ignored On climate change, more and more buildings and homes are being built in flood-prone areas even as the dangers increase. And now that coastal residents see the drastic solutions required to keep them safe that could potentially make their charming towns ugly, people are starting to get noticed.

A man standing on a section of a seawall built after the hurricane and flood of 1900, Galveston, Texas, c.  1902.
Part of the seawall built after the hurricane and flood of 1900, Galveston, Texas, 1902. Photo: Images from History/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

That’s what happened when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a branch of the military that’s also behind Miami’s plans, proposed a $1.1 billion seawall to protect Charleston, South Carolina, a city built on swamps and tidal creeks in the midst of which is critically endangered. storm surge and sea level rise hazards that are often described as “my presence“.

The plan is causing a local backlash because it has potential Words from the Post and Courier columnist Robert Behr, to be “pretty ugly”. He was referring to designs produced by the city’s Civic Design Center, which showed an avenue called Lockwood Boulevard closed off from the scenic views of the Ashley River by a tall concrete wall.

A South Carolina commentator named Will Foulkes compared it to the Berlin Wall. Writing earlier this year that “one of the most magnificent cities in the world is about to erect an ugly edifice for the Eastern Bloc in hopes of containing rising flood waters.”

Local policymakers also express reservations about the project’s visual impact. “Unless it’s drastically modified, I don’t think it’s going anywhere,” Councilman Mike Sickings said He said in Julysaid to refer, in part, to concerns that a concrete wall could spoil the views of the popular port city.

Charleston seawall design.
Charleston seawall design. Photo: City of Charleston

“I would say aesthetics are almost at the heart of the discussion,” said Belvin Ulasov, co-director of an advocacy group called the Charleston Climate Coalition. “In Charleston, you can walk by the sea, and that’s kind of a traditional connection, so the idea of ​​blocking that out with a giant concrete wall is a no-brainer to a lot of people.”

But he pointed to other problems with the proposal. sea ​​wall will not protect Rosemont is a historically black neighborhood, in part because of the high cost of extending the wall farther north into the city – and it is possible that it could make flooding there worse by blocking drainage channels and creating what would essentially be a rain bath.

This is also a concern in Norfolk, Virginia, where the Army Corps is Suggest A $1.6 billion seawall could protect a city vulnerable to climate change from storm surges caused by a hurricane. But some locals fear that the waters blocked by the seawall may be redirected south to the city of Portsmouth, which has a majority black population.

Seawall panels mimic the natural habitat of the beach ecosystem as part of Sydney's environmental efforts.
Seawall panels mimic the natural habitat of the beach ecosystem as part of Sydney’s environmental efforts. Photograph: James Redmayne/Reuters

The ugliness and social injustice of such proposals may in fact come from the same root cause—the mandate that governs the operations of the US Army Corps to secure the highest property for the most efficient expenditure. This is how you get ugly concrete proposals that fail to protect the most vulnerable populations in the region, Fleming said.

“Any piece of coastal infrastructure has to go through the permission and approval process by the Army Corps and they will never build anything other than what gives them the highest marginal benefit, and aesthetics don’t come into that,” Fleming said.

The Army Corps did not respond to a request for comment.

In coastal communities facing severe climate impacts, some locals are proposing an alternative: nature-based solutions such as restoring barrier islands, oyster beds and mangroves that unobtrusively allow cities to coexist with the water, and better protect low-income areas that are often left behind. of discussions about climate adaptation.

An aerial view of work in progress on a seawall at Tanohata Bay near Miyako in Japan, one of the towns hit by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
Work continues on a seawall at Tanohata Bay near Miyako in Japan, one of the cities hit by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Photo: Carl Cort/Getty Images

These measures “can address our country’s disproportionate flood risk gap and begin to fix the systemic inequality and systemic racism of the past,” He reads the letter of 2021 To the US Army Corps of Engineers Signed by over 100 environmental groups.

These are the kinds of solutions Miami Waterkeeper and others in the South offer fl They advocate it as an alternative to the 20-foot concrete walls that back the coast. This fall, the Army Corps began reconsidering its original proposal.

“They’re kind of rethinking everything now, and they’re doing it with more public contributions,” Silverstein said. But she said this delays the schedule for protecting Miami, which could result in nothing being built until the 2030s, while the risk of catastrophic storms worsens.

Waves crash over the seawall at Montrose Point, Chicago, Illinois.
Waves crash over the seawall at Montrose Point, Chicago. Photo: Todd Bannor/Alamy

“We are facing a very real existential crisis because of sea level rise and climate change,” she said. “Miami 50 years from now won’t look like Miami today, we have to admit it and plan for it.”

Despite public opposition in Miami and other cities, the preferred strategy from the Army Corps and federal policymakers is still to build massive castles – like The project is worth $29 billion He’s proposing in Galveston, Texas — literally isolating cities from the sea.

Cape Girardeau’s 20 foot flood wall a couple of weeks ago. Flood gates still closed. Many roads still flooded here. Above flood stage for a record length of time-over 108 days. pic.twitter.com/c1dsKZymnF

— rebecca mccoy (@rebeccamccoyb1) July 6, 2019

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The 20-foot flood wall at Cape Girardeau two weeks ago. The flood gates remain closed. Many roads are still immersed here. A phase above the flood for a record duration of more than 108 days. pic.twitter.com/c1dsKZymnF

– Rebecca McCoy (@rebeccamccoyb1) July 6, 2019

But in an era of mounting climate catastrophes, that may be just what some communities need. When planners in the 1940s proposed a flood wall for Cape Girardeau, Missouri, which sits alongside the Mississippi River, locals objected that it would be an ugly, fatal disaster for tourism and could even trap “stinks” within the city.

When the river swelled five years ago and came within a few feet of breaching the wall, the city newspaper reported He runs an editorial “Appreciating the flood wall and the leaders who built it,” arguing that “without it, we probably wouldn’t have a business-lined Main Street today.”

She added, “Our hats off to those leaders of previous generations who pushed for the wall and insisted on its completion.”

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