Adaptation ideas from architects?

By Kirsten Feifel

Sea level rise is one impact of climate change that people seem to be acutely wary of; it has been making headlines in newspapers and is something that repeatedly comes up in interviews with professionals working to adapt to climate change. Just this week we ran across an article in the New York Times highlighting the work of five architectural visions of an "apocalyptically soggy future" for New York and ways to adapt to rising sea levels. These plans are slated to be an art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) titled “Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront” opening March 24, 2010. 

While some of their ideas may seem a little peculiar (for example, installing massive oyster reefs and sponge-like streets to reduce the effects of storm surges or building water channels inside New York à la Venice), a lot of the architects’ answers for downtown New York align with some of the responses and ideas we are getting from our adaptation case studies. Land managers in Maryland and North Carolina are developing ways to enhance coastal wetland buffers, similar to the "sponge-like streets"; New Jersey is considering rezoning vulnerable areas to reduce damage to infrastructure; and lots of land managers in estuaries are recognizing the benefits of "living shorelines," like oyster beds, to provide resilience to storm surges. In reality, the MoMa art exhibit depicting a soggy future for New York City may not be to far off base when it comes to adaptation strategies for sea level rise. What is being displayed as art today may indeed transform into some sort of reality in the future.