Students from Old Dominion and Hampton Universities in Norfolk, Virginia were asked to create a design to help one local neighborhood adapt to sea-level rise. They searched for an off-the-shelf design that they could modify for the specific needs of Chesterfield Heights, but came up empty.

Skip Stiles of the nonprofit Wetlands Watch, who organized the effort, says that’s because most designs are more reactive than proactive.

Stiles: “In many ways it’s easier to do adaptation design after a neighborhood’s been flattened – because there’s the political will, there’s the funding, and unfortunately there are fewer structures on the landscape to get in the way of the adaptation design.”

So the students started from scratch, analyzing ideas like living shorelines and rainwater cisterns to create a package of low-cost, high-impact techniques to control flooding. Their work might result in more than just a grade.

Stiles: “The city is seeking a big federal grant to build resiliency into the city and because of the design work that the students did, this neighborhood is now included in that grant.”

If implemented, the upgrades will make Chesterfield Heights a drier and healthier place to live.

Wetlands Watch graphic of neighborhood

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo source: Wetlands Watch website

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Sara Peach is the editor-in-chief of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist,...