Chesterfield Heights, a low-income neighborhood on the banks of the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, Virginia, is dealing with increased nuisance flooding caused by sea-level rise. College students in the area were tasked with designing a strategy to help the neighborhood adapt. William Parks, a recent master’s graduate of Hampton University, participated in the challenge.

Chesterfield Heights coastline

Parks: “We realized that flooding is only an issue when the water is there, and it’s only there for a short period of time.”

Rather than looking for ways to keep the water out, Parks focused on finding a way to accept and deal with the water when it’s there.

His solution was front-yard cisterns. Designed to sit on top of the lawn, each unit has a holding tank topped with a tray that can be used to grow vegetables or other plants. The tank captures and stores water when it rains or floods, and opening a valve drains the water and allows it to gradually seep into the soil.

Parks says this rain barrel–meets–green-roof concept, once launched, could be implemented anywhere. It’s affordable and scalable – important for a low-income community. Parks’ innovative concept demonstrates that students have a lot to contribute to climate change solutions.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: The shoreline of Chesterfield Heights (source: ODU Students Design Nation’s First Climate Change Adapted Neighborhood).

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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,...