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.