The US Atlantic Coast is one of the most vulnerable areas in the world to sea level rise (SLR) because of its low elevation, large population concentration, and economic importance. In addition to SLR, coastal communities like New York City can expect an increase in flooding events and unpredictable weather patterns in coming years. Under current emission trends sea level will continue to rise throughout the twenty-first century. The Northern Hemisphere is expected to experience an increase of up to 30 percent maximum precipitation (Banholzer et al. 2014).
NYC and the North East Coast of the United States is more vulnerable to natural disasters than ever before. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy led to $50 billion of economic losses and $25 billion in insured losses (Banholzer et al. 2014). The economic losses and infrastructure destruction occurred beyond the bounds of the greater New York area. Social distress and environmental degradation were also major impacts of Superstorm Sandy. NYC experienced the brunt of the storm surge and associated damage: seventeen percent of NYC’s land flooded, resulting in 44 deaths and $19 billion in citywide damages and lost economic activity (NYC EDC 2019).
Natural mitigation is a method of natural resiliency present in Earth’s systems; this includes a wide variety of ecosystems: oyster reefs, salt marshes, tidal flats, seagrasses, etc. which provide an array of ecosystem services including carbon sequestration, coastal armoring, erosion control, and decretion in wave strength (Currin, et al. 2010). Currently native habitats protect 67% of the coastlines in the United States.
This method proved to be the best solution in North Carolina; the ecosystem productivity and services are preserved including the protection of the coastal land. In a study, five transplanted marshlands were able to seamlessly integrate themselves into adjacent marshes, ages ranging from 12 – 38 years. A living shore line like a constructed marsh decreases soil erosion while maintaining soil structure and coastal integrity (Davis, J. et al. 2015).
An alternate to terrestrial ecosystem restoration is oyster-reef restoration in oceanic intertidal zones in coastal communities. The presence of oyster reefs increases biodiversity and abundance, decreases shoreline erosion, and provides a socio-economic benefit for the coastal community. Due to their nature, oyster reefs naturally build and erode over time and take little to no maintenance. The restoration cost of oyster reefs is estimated by the Army Corps of Engineers to be between $5 and $15 per cubic yard in the New York-New Jersey Harbor (Yozzo, D. 2004).
Raising Cities: Miami Beach, Florida
Raising cities is a strategy used by low lying cities to alleviate SLR problems. It helps to decrease the frequency and amount of infrastructure damaged due to flooding events. One approach is raising street elevations, which has 2 issues: cost of raising roads and effects it has on adjacent buildings (Bloetscher et al, 2014). This process requires adjacent buildings to install water pumps to remove stormwater from their property. Another approach in elevating cities is raising buildings based on the base flood elevation will reduce the amount of flooding on properties.
Miami Beach is ground zero for sea level rise amongst U.S. coastal cities (Andragna, 2014). In addition to regular high tides, the city also experiences King Tides, the highest high tides. Miami Beach is currently elevating 105 miles of street and intends to raise the entire city within 10 years (Ruggeri, 2017 and ULI, 2018). Urban Land Institute (ULI) Advisory Service Panel Report shows Miami Beach in 2018 was able to obtain $600 million dollars for its Stormwater Management Program. A top-down approach was utilized to implement the street elevation policy. One of the city’s successes is the 2 feet street elevation done in Sunset Harbor Neighborhood (Miami Beach Rising Above, 2020a). This neighborhood was once the lowest point in Miami Beach and now has been protected against 60 tidal floods (Harris, 2020).
Many praised Miami Beach’s approach to taking actions against SLR. Many other cities view them as an example and as a solution. Their top-down approach in utilizing grey infrastructure to solve its problem was very controversial (Harris, 2018a). When this project was first initiated, all decisions were made by the government with only consultation of SLR experts. The communities were not involved in any initial decision making processes, resulting in confusion, reluctance and resistance in cooperating with the government (Harris, 2018b). Over the years residence involvement in the discussion has increased because the government realized the importance for these conversations.
Raising cities is a short term SLR mitigation strategy effectively applied at a small scale. But to apply this strategy to an entire city and at a very fast rate, lots of problems will emerge, slowing the process down. Eventually it would be impossible for a city to continue investing in projects elevating the city.
Managed retreat is a long-term strategy to retreat inland away from high-risk coastal zones to prevent damage, increase public health and safety, restore coastal ecosystems, and allow natural modes of coastal protection (Manuel et al. 2016). Areas along coastlines are prone to erosion, subsidence, and water damage. Managed retreat seeks to relocate individuals, homes, structures, and communities away from these high-risk zones to promote resiliency (Manuel et al. 2016, Song et al. al 2018). Planning a coastal relocation requires effective land use planning, policymaking that adopts future city trajectories, local governance, and community engagement (Song et al. 2018).
Newtok is a Native Alaskan Village inhabited by the Qaluyaarmiut for the last 2,000 years, an indigenous Yup’ik Eskimo population that lives a traditional fisherman-subsistence lifestyle (Feifel and Gregg 2020). The village is located on the Ninglick River in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region, which poses many natural hazards accelerated by climate change in the last 30 years. The Ninglick River continues to erode the Newtok shorelines, which has been exacerbated by thawing permafrost, declining sea ice protection, increased storm surge exposure, and warming temperatures (Feifel and Gregg 2020).
Negotiations on village relocation began in 1994, when the Newtok Traditional Council considered the Mertarvik site as a new home, due to progressing erosion issues. In October 2019, the Qaluyaarmiut began their community-wide relocation from Newtok to Mertarvik. The new location provides natural protection from SLR, eroding river banks, and flooding events. Phase one of the relocation process consisted of 21 households, accounting for roughly a third of the 370 Newtok population (Lester 2019). This relocation effort will take years to complete, including the finishing of the new Mertarvik community components. The Newtok Managed Retreat and Relocation project is estimated to cost between $80 million to $130 million, roughly $2 million per household, including weather resilient homes and a community Evacuation Center; the funding sourced form many different supporting agencies (Feifel and Gregg 2020, Lester 2019).
The Newtok Alaska Relocation plan for the resiliency of the Indigenous Qaluyaarmiut people proves the many challenges associated with managed retreat strategies. Newtok Relocation and Mertarvik community development will continue for many years in the future. Although much difficulty was associated with the project, this case study also highlights the positive results of community-wide managed retreat in isolated communities. The movement of the Qaluyaarmiut people from their historical home is not ideal, but necessary to promote social resiliency of their cultural existence.
Human driven climate change and associated natural hazards will impact all sectors and dimensions of sustainability throughout vulnerable coastal communities. Localizing the issue will allow communities to address their needs in ways appropriately serving their critical systems, agents, and culture. Sustainability thinking and resiliency development of city institutions are essential for increasing public-private partnership capacities within this arena. The precautionary principle must be adopted to ensure minimized impacts, losses, and downtime following a natural hazard. It is imperative to focus on building more disaster resilient, sustainable coastal communities through a hybrid approach that focuses on the specific vulnerabilities and needs of NYC communities.
Adragna, A. (2014). Florida Senator Nelson calls sea-level rise, climate change ‘compelling story,’ announces hearing. Bloomberg BNA. March 12. < https://www.bna.com/florida-sen-nelson-b17179882772/> (accessed 2/22/2019).
Banholzer, Sandra, James Kossin, and Simon Donner. 2014. “The Impact of Climate Change on Natural Disasters.” Reducing Disaster: Early Warning Systems for Climate Change. https://doi.org/DOI 10.1007/978-94-017-8598-3_2.
Bloetscher, F., Locke, N., van Allen G.T., and Muniz, A. (2014). A manager’s paradigm: Too much Water and Limited Water Supplies. Florida Water Resource Journal. 64(5), 29-40.
City-Data. (2020a). Miami Beach, Florida. www.city-data.com.
Currin, C.A., Chappell, W.S, and Deaton, A., 2010, Developing alternative shoreline armoring strategies: The living shoreline approach in North Carolina, in Shipman, H., Dethier, M.N., Gelfenbaum, G., Fresh, K.L., and Dinicola, R.S., eds., 2010, Puget Sound Shorelines and the Impacts of Armoring—Proceedings of a State of the Science Workshop, May 2009: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5254, p. 91-102.
Davis JL, Currin CA, O’Brien C, Raffenburg C, Davis A. 2015. Living Shorelines: Coastal Resilience with a Blue Carbon Benefit. PLoS ONE 10 (11): e0142595. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0142595
Feifel, Kirsten and Rachel M. Gregg. 2020. “Relocating the Village of Newtok, Alaska due to Coastal Erosion.” Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange. https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/relocating-village-newtok-alaska-due-coastal-erosion.
Harris, A. (2018 a). Miami Beach’s future is ‘uncertain,’ experts say, but sea rise pumps are a good start. Miamiherald.com. April 19. <https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/miami-beach/article209328849.html> (accessed 5/3/2020).
Harris, A. (2018 b). ‘Why are we the guinea pig?’; Climate change project divides a Miami Beach neighborhood. Miaimiherald.com. December 13. <https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article223054220.html> (accessed 5/10/2020).
Harris, A, (2020). Miami Beach Residents Angered as Flood-prone roads get raised. Miamiherald.com. January 23. <https://www.govtech.com/em/preparedness/Miami-Beach-Residents-Angered-as-Flood-Prone-Roads-get-Raised.html> (accessed 5/10/2020).
Lester, Marc. 2019. “A Western Alaska village, long threatened by erosion and flooding, begins to relocate.” Anchorage Daily News. https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/rural-alaska/2019/10/19/a-western-alaska-village-long-threatened-by-erosion-and-flooding-begins-to-relocate/.
Manuel, Patricia, Yvonne Reeves, and Kevin Hooper. 2016. “Land Use Planning Adaptation Tool – Managed Retreat and Managed Abandonment.” Atlantic Climate Adaptation Solutions Association: 155-157. https://atlanticadaptation.ca/sites/default/files/documents/LUP_Tool_L26.pdf.
Miami Beach Rising Above (a). (2020). Elevation. Mbrisingabove.com. < http://www.mbrisingabove.com/your-city-at-work/stormwater-program/elevation/> (accessed 5/3/2020).
New York City Economic Development Council. 2019. “Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency.” Accessed December 3, 2019. https://edc.nyc/project/lower-manhattan-coastal-resiliency.
Ruggeri, A. (2017). Miami’s fight against rising seas. BBC Future Now. April 4. < https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170403-miamis-fight-against-sea-level-rise > (accessed 5/6/2020).
Song, Jie, Xinyu Fu, Ruoniu Wang, Zhong-Ren Peng, and Zongni Gu. 2018. “Does planned retreat matter? Investigating land use change under the impacts of flooding induced by sea level rise.” Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 23: 703-733. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11027-017-9756-x.
Taylor, J, and D Bushek. 2008. “Intertidal Oyster Reefs Can Persist and Function in a Temperate North American Atlantic Estuary.” Marine Ecology Progress Series 361: 301–6. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps07429.
Yozzo, David J., Pace Wilber, and Robert J. Will. 2004. “Beneficial Use of Dredged Material for Habitat Creation, Enhancement, and Restoration in New York–New Jersey Harbor.” Journal of Environmental Management 73, no. 1: 39–52. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2004.05.008.