design

Coming Down from the Hills to Study Sea Level Rise

David Imburgia from the City of Hampton speaks (and gestures!) to Virginia Tech students working to help on the City's resilience plan.

David Imburgia from the City of Hampton speaks (and gestures!) to Virginia Tech students working to help on the City's resilience plan.

Snapshot: University academic programs are starting to make a difference in adaptation work in Virginia through collaborative partnerships with local governments to solve pressing problems.

Backstory: A group of 28 Virginia Tech students (6 graduate and 22 senior undergrads) from a range of disciplines are working in the city of Hampton to help with their city-wide resilience planning. The effort is part of Wetlands Watch's collaborative resilience laboratory, or "Collaboratory," which seeks to partner Virginia's tidal communities with the State's academic institutions that offer community-based learning opportunities (practicums, capstone courses, place-based learning courses, etc.). The goal is to match need with opportunity to advance adaptation implementation in Virginia. Our major partner in this work is Virginia Sea Grant, which has seven university members in Virginia and is eager to help them find a role to play in addressing coastal Virginia's flooding problems.

The effort grew out of our successful work in the Chesterfield Heights neighborhood in Norfolk in which student teams from Old Dominion University (engineering) and Hampton University (architecture) joined forces using an award from Virginia Sea Grant to design an adaptation plan for that community. Subsequent work with the University of Virginia in the Ingleside neighborhood proved that this approach was useful for both the community and the university students. In both cases the student work resulted in significant implementation grants to the city of Norfolk and its partners.

The Virginia Tech team is led by Geography professor, Dr. Anamaria Bukvic, whose "Climate Change and Social Impact" class was looking for a location on which it could focus its efforts. Wetlands Watch knew of Hampton's work and the significant effort being expended to develop a resilience plan, so we contacted city staff and they quickly found a role for the students to play. Over the course of this semester they will assist in developing approaches for three different communities along Hampton's Chesapeake Bay shoreline.

Wetlands Watch and Virginia Sea Grant are seeking more of these collaborations over the next three years of funding for the Collaboratory. We are also seeking to export this model to other coastal regions.

San Francisco Resilient by Design Challenge

The San Francisco Bay area climate change adaptation effort is getting a big boost thanks to a $4.6 million Rockefeller Foundation grant underwriting a design competition: Resilient By Design: Bay Area Challenge. This work follows on a 2009 design effort in the region, Rising Tides, which was the inspiration for Wetlands Watch's adaptation design efforts.

This could be a great step forward, coming as it does before the problem gets acute. We in other soggy regions will be watching this design work with interest.

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Adaptation and Water Quality Designs in Norfolk Neighborhood

The "Team" had its first meeting in Ingleside on Jan. 28. = the "Team" is the citizens of Ingleside, Wetlands Watch, Elizabeth River Project, Green Building Council of Hampton Roads, Virginia Sea Grant, the City of Norfolk and (most importantly) a group of energetic students from the University of Virginia. The students are involved in the University's Resiliency effort and are led by Dr. Phoebe Crisman. Also down from UVA were Dr. Ellen Bassett and Dr. Mark White.

We spent the afternoon in the Ingleside Church hearing from residents about their experiences with flooding and stormwater pollution and their desires for the neighborhood. Student teams recorded detailed observations about the community - including marking up maps on the wall. The students and professors will go back to Charlottesville and set to work and return in March to brief the rest of the Team about their initial designs.

This work follows on the earlier adaptation design work done in Chesterfield Heights by Hampton University and Old Dominion University students assisted by Wetlands Watch, Elizabeth River Project, and the Green Building Council of Hampton Roads - and funded by Virginia Sea Grant. That work resulted in a major grant to the city of Norfolk to implement those designs.

Student Adaptation Designs Bring Big Rewards

Wetlands Watch has been working on sea level rise adaptation for over a decade. We worried that no one had developed nature-based designs at a community scale that could be installed before a storm hits. With collaboration and funding from Virginia Sea Grant, in 2014 we asked the Hampton University Architecture Department and the Old Dominion University Civil/Environmental Engineering Department if they wanted to work on these designs - they said YES!. We also asked the Hampton Roads Green Building Council to provide professional mentoring and assistance.

We selected the community of Chesterfield Heights in Norfolk, VA, a community of 500+ houses along the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River, just starting to experience flooding. The students interviewed residents and conducted community tours and listening sessions. They dug for old records (Chesterfield Heights is an Historic District, having been built out around 1900 - 1920) and information on infrastructure, soils, etc.

They worked together - engineers and architects - to solve the flooding problems with the parameters we gave them: designs had to maintain or expand ecosystem services. They developed an intricate, distributed system of solutions that in model runs showed a 90% reduction in flooding and major reductions in stormwater pollution. A report on their work can be downloaded HERE.

This work was presented to Norfolk city staff, who recommended its inclusion in a 4-day international design effort, "Life at Sea Level: Dutch Dialogues Virginia." These designs were then packaged as a proposal to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's "National Disaster Resilience Competition." a post - Hurricane Sandy design effort, coordinated by the Rockefeller Foundation.

In January 2016 the winners were announced and the student-based designs for Chesterfield Heights were awarded a $120 million grant for implementation. An amazing arc of success for these students, their universities, and the regional effort at resilience. We will be continuing this work with a generous grant from the Adiuvans Foundation, hoping to develop a community of practice in this region that can serve as a national resource as we seek solutions to sea level rise flooding.