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Many historic sites in Scotland, like Skara Brae, are extremely vulnerable to climate change. Courtesy Sylvia Duckworth via Wikimedia Commons.

The sudden loss of historic sites along coastal areas, and their just as sudden reemergence, are often among the unexpected consequences of sea-level rise. We recently came across this piece by Henry Gass at E&E Publishing on the vulnerabilities of Scottish historic properties to coastline erosion, and the inability of the existing regulatory structures to adapt to both the threats and opportunities it presents. This piece, originally published behind the publisher’s paywall, highlights some of these issues. E&E, which does excellent daily reporting on climate change and energy issues, has kindly allowed us to repost the article in full.

 

SCOTLAND FIGHTS TO KEEP ITS ANCIENT HISTORY

FROM VANISHING UNDER A RISING SEA

HENRY GASS, E&E PUBLISHING, LLC, AUGUST 1, 2014

A storm buried Skara Brae for centuries, and it would take a storm to unearth it again.

Roughly 5,000 years ago, a small community of farmers settled in the village on a small island off Scotland’s northeast coast. The villagers lived in geometrically identical stone houses, grew barley, raised cattle and sheep, and carved tools using volcanic rock from Iceland that washed ashore. Over 700 years, they built an ordered society until, archaeologists believe, the climate changed and powerful storms buried the village in water and sand.

Almost three centuries later, in 1850, another powerful storm tore into the island’s coastal dunes, revealing Skara Brae once more. Archaeologists have been excavating the site ever since, gaining detailed insights into the uniquely organized and comfortable Neolithic settlement. But now the climate is changing again, and it may not be long before Skara Brae is reclaimed by the ocean.

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BY KATHARINE LOGAN

sea wall _blog

New design for Seattle’s Elliott Bay Seawall will include habitat for young salmon and a glass-floored promenade to allow light into the ocean.

From the July 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Before Seattle grew up on its shores, Elliott Bay was a bluff-backed beach, with intertidal marshes and mudflats providing a complex and varied habitat for birds, fish, and marine invertebrates. Its sloping beaches offered salmon a safe passage through shallow waters, with plenty to eat along the way.

The growth of Seattle changed that. The developing city filled and leveled its waterfront behind a seawall built on densely spaced and creosote-blackened pilings. Deep, dark, and toxic, the urban shoreline repels migrating salmon out into the bay on a difficult journey where they become easy prey for other fish and marine mammals.

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A monthly roundup of the news, dispatches, and marginalia that caught our eye.

This month’s issue of the Queue delights in OLIN Studio’s new digital magazine, absorbs the inevitable wave of backflow on Rebuild by Design, and ponders the goat invasion of Long Island.

 

CATCHING UP WITH…

 

OUR WOBBLY WORLD

FIELD STUDIES

 

DISTRACT ME FROM MY DEADLINE DEPT.

 

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Interboro Partners

Interboro Team. Courtesy Rebuild by Design.

In the Hurricane Sandy destruction zone today, there were long-awaited exhales to accompany the end of the yearlong competition phase of Rebuild by Design, the federal post-Sandy recovery project. Scores of designers learned which of 10 multidisciplinary teams, and which of the teams’ ideas, will receive federal funding to help make the New York and New Jersey metropolitan region better adapted to fend off huge storms and rising seas in the future.

The announcements of winners were made in two rounds by Shaun Donovan, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who also has served as chair of the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. Donovan, who is set to leave HUD imminently to become the director of the Office of Management and Budget upon his confirmation by the Senate, announced the winning projects for New York this morning at a public event on the Lower East Side. This afternoon, Donovan announced the winning New Jersey projects in the borough of Little Ferry.

For projects in New York, the winning teams, their project sites, and funding amounts are:

  1. The BIG Team, for its project, the Big U, a flood-protection system designed to run 10 miles around the lower half of Manhattan. Funding: $335 million.
  2. The Interboro Team, for its project, Living with the Bay: A Comprehensive Regional Resiliency Plan for Nassau County’s South Shore. Funding: $125 million.
  3. The team led by SCAPE/Landscape Architecture, for its project, Living Breakwaters, a series of constructed reef habitats along the south shore of Staten Island at Tottenville to slow storm surges and regenerate coastal ecology. Funding: $60 million.
  4. The PennDesign/OLIN team, for its project, Hunts Point Lifelines, a series of flood-protection and infrastructure strategies to protect the one-square-mile Hunts Point peninsula of the Bronx, the hub of a $5 billion annual food industry serving New York City. Funding: $20 million.
MIT

MIT CAU + ZUS + URBANISTEN. Courtesy Rebuild by Design.

For projects in New Jersey, the winning teams, their project sites, and funding amounts are:

  1. The team led by OMA, for Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge: A Comprehensive Strategy for Hoboken, which looks at a variety of ways to handle flash flooding and storm surges in Hoboken as well as in Weehawken and Jersey City. Funding: $230 million.
  2. The team MIT CAU + ZUS + URBANISTEN for New Meadowlands: Productive City + Regional Park. Funding: $150 million.

 

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A monthly roundup of the news, dispatches, and marginalia that caught our eye.

In this dispatch of the Queue, we tiptoe through the tweets of May, contemplate a trip to the high desert, and willingly give ourselves over to the United States Geological Service.

 

CATCHING UP WITH…

 

FIELD STUDIES

 

OUT AND ABOUT

 

DISTRACT ME FROM MY DEADLINE DEPT., TWITTER EDITION

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At the Cities for Tomorrow conference hosted by the New York Times on April 22, I sat down with U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan to get his perspective on the Rebuild by Design competition. The competition launched by President Obama’s interagency Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, which Donovan chairs, could potentially transform vast stretches of metropolitan New York’s coastlines. The winners from the 10 finalist teams will receive funding from the approximately $3.6 billion in remaining Hurricane Sandy disaster money that HUD has slated for rebuilding and reinforcing flood-prone areas.

Donovan, who trained as an architect, describes the competition as part of a larger effort to change the ways government agencies and the design professions approach issues such as resilience and sustainability. “There are many competitions that have spurred innovation and excellence,” he told me. “What we were looking for here was to go beyond that in a couple of ways. One was to make an investment in some of the projects so at the end, they would get built. Second, to get innovation in community engagement, and third, to think about how this could actually bring about innovation in the way that government works.”

Donovan says outdated rules and regulations hampered the development of sustainable design solutions in the past. “There are many federal rules, fewer now than before, but there are still some which don’t encourage this type of thinking,” he said. “Even the cost-benefit analysis that is done by FEMA and other agencies often does not have a way of taking into account the benefits of green infrastructure.”

Beyond the competition, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force is working to make coastal areas more resilient by gathering more information about climate change and making it publicly available to citizens, “but also to professionals like landscape architects,” Donovan said. “You are building on the waterfront—what are the risks of sea-level rise over the next 50 to 100 years, and how do you then think about building as a result of that?”

One of the more transformative aspects of Rebuild by Design is that instead of privileging hard engineering solutions, as has been the case with traditional approaches to building resiliency to storms, it is elevating softer strategies such as restoring wetlands and other ecosystems alongside them. Donovan says that one example of this multipronged approach is a system of oyster reef breakwaters designed by the landscape architecture firm SCAPE, which leads one of the finalist teams. “What they [breakwaters] do is significantly reduce wave power. And what that does is naturally start to build back the beach behind it, which itself creates dunes and protects homes—so it is a much more sophisticated approach that involves hard and soft [strategies].”

Donovan has a distinctive perspective on designing storm resilient infrastructure. In addition to his architecture degree from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, he is married to a landscape architect, Liza Gilbert, who worked for Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates on Brooklyn Bridge Park, a waterfront park that, although hit hard by Sandy, emerged relatively unscathed.

Nearly all the projects by the 10 finalist teams have a strong landscape architecture component, and Donovan believes that the profession is especially well-positioned to drive design decisions in Sandy-ravaged areas, where much of the work involves rebuilding beaches, promenades, and boardwalks. “Landscape architects have a unique set of skills,” he said. “In some ways they most easily get beyond this opposition of hard versus soft—they understand that the natural world can be part of the man-made world.”

Alex Ulam is a frequent contributor to LAM.

 

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The Fluid and the Solid TRAILER from Alex + Ben on Vimeo.

If you haven’t used the term “Anthropocene” much, you can be forgiven. The term is of fairly recent origin, and it’s used to describe what some believe is a new geologic age: one in which human activity has changed the earth and its atmosphere. It’s a big idea, one that catches a lot of other ideas in its net—climate change being the most powerful. The idea of the Anthropocene lends more weight to what we already understand are the consequences of human activity. Our impact is not just local, national, or global, but temporal. We’ve literally changed the scale of geologic time.

The awesome consequences of human agency on the land are tough to convey without sounding ponderous, but for the filmmakers Alex Chohlas-Wood and Ben Mendelsohn, who are interested in things like infrastructure, technology, and the human/nature interface, much of the story can be told by the landscapes where these earth-changing processes take place. Which is how they came to make a documentary nominally about dredging, dredge landscapes, and sediment flow: The Fluid and the Solid.

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