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June 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Student Voice: A New Plan B: Relocate American Cities

A new plan B: Relocate American cities” in response to climate change, writes Alex Slaymaker, an Ohio University student majoring in Environmental Planning and policy with a minor in Geography, in the June 19 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Voices of Tomorrow series. “The time will come when many Americans, and humans living on the coast worldwide, will be forced out of their homes by storms, rising sea level, and other effects of climate change. Intra-national migration will prove far more fluid if citizens and structures move systemically as a managed disaster prevention method, instead of as a forced response to devastation. ”

In the case of climate change, accepting the new reality can help push the discourse from debating the existence of climate change to action. Planners, politicians, and citizens have started to vocalize the necessity for more aggressive planning and adaption measures to increase the resilience, flexibility, and physical strength of existing cities. A second, more extreme conversation—to discuss the gradual relocation of the nation’s most threatened cities—demands greater investigation and scientific research.

American society currently lacks resilience in its physical infrastructure, development ideologies, methods, standards, and laws. Millions of Americans live and work in threatened coastal areas that are vulnerable to extreme storms, sea-level rise, and other climate impacts. Important economic, political, and cultural cities like New York City require intense planning and preparation for climate change, but they are unlikely to be relocated in this century. Modest attempts to mitigate the effects of climate change on coastal development without requiring fundamental societal changes include expensive storm barriers and “soft” forms of adaptation (for example, protecting wetlands that provide natural flood protection). Although these mitigation techniques will benefit cities in the short-term and greatly extend the vitality of our most important cities, city planners need to start determining the safest and most resilient locations for future long-term habitation.

Current models and data have already predicted which cities will experience the  greatest increase in extreme weather events and other consequences of climate change. Now, researchers must use these predictions to perform a multifaceted survey of the viability of American cities, to determine the economic, political, and social benefits of relocating cities to areas with decreased vulnerability.

Read her entire article.

Her bio: Slaymaker is an undergraduate at Ohio University, where she is pursuing a degree in environmental planning and policy, with a minor in geography. She is currently conducting research on composting programs in higher education through the Ivy Plus Sustainability Working Group, and has previously done research under the auspices of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study and the Urban Long-Term Research Area Exploratory Awards (ULTRA-Ex). She is involved in promoting sustainability on campus through the university’s Ecology and Energy Conservation Committee, the Student Senate’s Sustainability Committee, and contributions to the university’s environmental e-publication Routes. During her sophomore year, she led a subcommittee of students and professors that created construction and design standards and benchmarks for Ohio University’s Climate Action Plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2075. Slaymaker plans to attend graduate school to prepare for a career in urban planning, public policy, and sustainability.

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