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How will climate change affect our coastal cities?

One of the reasons New York is the city it is today is because of the superiority of its port. For a number of reasons, which are better explained here by urban economist Edward Glaeser, New York was almost destined to become “America’s port.” Of course, this phenomenon is something that has been repeated all throughout history. Being connected to the right body of water, in the right way, has meant all the difference in terms of economic success.

But with study after study demonstrating that our economic success is leading to severe climate change and to the melting of arctic ice sheets, those very same port cities are now being put at serious risk. How ironic. Hurricane Sandy was the largest storm surge in the history of New York. Prior to it occurring, the likelihood of such a storm would have been calculated at 0.1%. It was greater than a 1,000 year storm.

But if the research is correct, we’re going to see more storm surges and we’re going to see rising sea levels. This makes many, if not all, sea port cities a high risk zone for flooding, which is why cities, such as Boston, have prepared comprehensive reports on how to manage a rising tide. From adjustable parapet walls to multipurpose green spaces that can absorb excess water levels, cities around the world are looking for solutions.

But these are merely reactive solutions.

What need to also be looking at is how we can fundamentally improve our economy so that we’re operating in a sustainable way. Some of the research suggests that what we’ve done is irreversible, but that doesn’t mean we should continue to make it any worse. Part of the issue with this “wicked problem” is that it doesn’t seem immediate to most people, yet. It’s too easy to ignore. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Image: This Big City

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