Still Reeling from Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey Town Plans for Sequel

By Kirsten Howard and Allie Goldstein

July 20-21, 2014

Nearly two years after Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, the main drag in the town of Sea Bright, looks almost normal again. Beach-goers unload umbrellas and coolers from the oceanside parking lot. Restaurant-goers order brunch at the sidewalk cafes. Mrs. Rooney, the widow of Sea Bright’s former mayor, is stationed at her hot dog stand, which first opened in 1965. 

Sea Bright’s 1,400 or so permanent residents put on a good face to get the tourists that are the lifeblood of their economy back in town. But it only takes a slightly closer look to see the wounds below the band-aids.

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Walking the Floodplain to Protect Historic Portsmouth from Sea Level Rise

Portsmouth, NH

Kirsten Howard

With the road trip part of the Adaptation Stories project now complete, I’m walking along narrow brick lined streets through the Historic District of my new hometown: Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This quaint Atlantic Seacoast community was the third settled U.S. city, so the homes in the South End neighborhood are historic gems. Some played host to George Washington in the 1700s, while others housed factory workers in a more industrial era.

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Maryland Marsh Plans to Rise Above the Rising Tides

Dorchester County, MD

Allie Goldstein

The tall pine stands at the edge of the marsh look permanent to the untrained eye, but when we step off the pavement and onto the forest floor, the ground sways like a mattress. We’re standing on what Erik Meyers calls terra infirma.

“This is all history,” he says. “This is all going to be gone.”

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A Climate Adaptation Plan in the Unlikeliest City

August 21, 2013

Detroit, MI

When we arrive in Detroit, it is at once beautiful and dilapidated, bustling and devoid. The Detroit Institute of Arts building, an apartment building on East Kirby Street, the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church—they’re historical landmarks that have managed to stay current, stay open, stay inhabited. But there’s an emptiness that surrounds them. Buildings on the skyline are hollow; the memories of what once filled them fading. Woodward Avenue seems oddly wide for the number of cars traversing it. It was built for a time of more traffic.

Woodward Avenue in Detroit

Woodward Avenue in Detroit

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With New Rooftops, Chicago Tries to Keep Its Cool

Chicago, IL

August 19, 2013

The roof on top of Crane Technical High School on Jackson Boulevard in Chicago is blindingly white—so reflective that we’re squinting through our sunglasses. Installed by Knickerbocker Paving & Roofing Co., the 110,000-square-foot white roof is part of Chicago’s efforts to reverse the urban heat island effect that can make cities up to 10 degrees hotter than surrounding rural areas. From our vantage point, we can see a mosaic of light-colored roofs reflecting the sun’s rays away from the urban core.

The view from the white rooftop of Crane Technical High School

The view from the white rooftop of Crane Technical High School

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Cracking the Case of the Vanishing Oyster Larvae

Olympic Peninsula, WA

July 28-August 1, 2013

Algae grown in these tanks will feed oyster larvae at Taylor Shellfish's hatchery

Algae grown in these tanks will feed oyster larvae at Taylor Shellfish’s hatchery

The algae tanks that line the walls of Taylor Shellfish Farms hatchery in Quilcene, Washington are varying shades of emerald greens and beer-like browns. Each one holds a different gourmet meal for oyster larvae. The chief hatchery scientist, Benoit Eudeline, weaves through the tanks looking relieved.

“These look good,” he says. “We’ve been having some trouble growing algae lately. If it’s not problems with the larvae it’s always something else.”

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Sharing Shelter in San Francisco

July 23-25, 2013

San Francisco, CA

From Nashville, Tennessee to Santa Fe, New Mexico to Los Osos, California, Airbnb has been a favorite tool for finding accommodations on the road. If you aren’t familiar with it, Airbnb is an increasingly popular online platform through which people rent their spare room or extra apartment to travelers passing through town. The company is revolutionizing the bed & breakfast business—an in-house study found that Airbnb contributed $56 million to the San Francisco economy in 2011 and a whopping $240 million to Paris’s economy in 2012. Continue reading

A Fight for Fire in New Mexico

Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

July 6, 2013

This story does not represent the views of the U.S. Forest Service. Bill Armstrong was interviewed as a fellow alumnus of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Driving through the Santa Fe National Forest, it is hard to believe that this landscape was once savannah-like, with grassy clearings opening up among the ponderosa pine. Now, there are about 900 trees crowded in per acre where there used to be 40.

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New Orleans Gives Evacuation Plan an Artist’s Touch

New Orleans, Louisiana

June 27-28, 2013

As we drive down North Rampart Street in New Orleans, we pass a fourteen-foot tall, steel statue of a person with one arm outstretched as if to hail a ride. Its pose seems symbolic as much as aesthetic, drawing people to it as if to say, “stick with me and I will guide you.” And that’s exactly what the statue does, because it marks an ‘EvacuSpot.’

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Queen Quet, Unedited

Saint Helena Island, South Carolina

June 22, 2013

The Gullah/Geechee people, descendants of enslaved Africans captured in Angola and other parts of the Western Seaboard of Africa who now stretch from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, do not have a word for “adaptation” or “resiliency” in their Creole language. And yet, as Queen Quet, the elected head-of-state for the Gullah/Geechee, explains in the (unedited) clip above, the Gullah/Geechee are an incredibly resilient people: they maintained their culture through slavery and today continue traditional farming practices on family compounds.

“What we understand, or overstand as I like to say—that’s what others call adapting,” Queen Quet said. “We call it living.”

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Searching for Shade in Louisville

Louisville, Kentucky

June 12-13, 2013

Known for its derbies and its Olmsted parks; Louisville, Kentucky, is also gaining notoriety as the city with the fastest growing urban heat island in the country, according to research at the Georgia Tech Urban Climate Lab. We wanted to find out what people in Louisville are doing to prepare and protect themselves against the heat. Watch Louisville’s story about the citizens who are banding together to get trees in the ground.

To view more photos click here.

In North Carolina, Sea Level Rise Is No Crystal Ball

Beaufort, North Carolina

June 19-20, 2013

On June 4, 2012, Stephen Colbert did what the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission could not: he made sea level rise sexy. In a five-and-a-half-minute spot titled “Sink or Swim,” Colbert poked fun at NC-20, a conservative group that pushed the NC state legislature to introduce a bill that would ban state agencies from considering anything more than historical data on sea level rise in future planning.

Colbert mocked NC-20’s logic with a pointed metaphor: “ If we consider only historical data, I’ve been alive my entire life, therefore I always will be.”

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Norfolk Rises Above the Rising Tide

Norfolk, Virginia

June 10, 2013

Everyone was dripping wet in the elevator on our way to the Flood Executive Group meeting in Norfolk, Virginia’s City Hall. A young man squeezed in on the third floor.

“I’m thinking of going for a swim today after work—right off my front porch,” he joked.

Norfolk has the distinction of being in the second most vulnerable metropolitan area in the U.S.—after New Orleans—to sea level rise, so quips about flooding are common. But, unfortunately, there is always some truth to the banter: even the day’s intermittent thundershowers would lead to flash floods in some neighborhoods.

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Delaware’s Beach Houses Surf, Then Freeboard

Lewes and Bethany Beach, Delaware

June 7-9, 2013

When Arthur and Roberta Leib returned to Bethany Beach, Delaware after the Great March Storm of 1962, instead of finding their army-surplus house in its usual grassy lot off 5th Street, they encountered it surfing among the downed utility wires at the intersection of 5th and Pennsylvania. Fortunately, they were able to retrieve the house and move it back to “higher ground,” which according to their son, Jeff Leib, consisted of the foot or two of sand that had blown into the lot with the Nor’easter winds. Thanks to this recovery, we were able to enjoy a few days at the beach in the quaint, blue house with an adventurous spirit. Of course, not every house was so lucky. Continue reading

Keeping Baltimore Neighborhoods Cool

Baltimore, Maryland

June 4, 2013

Baltimore is known as the “city of neighborhoods.” Kristin Baja, the new Hazard Mitigation and Adaptation Planner for the city, is working on learning the names of all 225 of them. She’s eight months into job and doing pretty well so far—as we drive around the city, she’s rattling off names: Patterson Park, the Middle East, Four By Four (which is actually a four block by four block square), Oliver, Ellwood Park. Easier than memorizing neighborhoods, though, is figuring out what areas of the city are in need of more tree canopy. These are the areas with no respite of shade during extreme heat events.

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Patience After the Superstorm

June 3, 2013

New Rochelle, New York

Last October, Hurricane Sandy ripped through New Rochelle, New York, on Long Island Sound, leaving two-thirds of residents without power. Traffic lights hung blank-faced in the streets. Families intent on going out trick-or-treating two days after the storm were cautioned to avoid downed wires

“Boats were deposited in places we never ever thought we’d see in our lifetime,” said Bill Zimmerman, New Rochelle’s Parks and Recreation Commissioner. Continue reading

Cape Codders Take Down Parking Lots, Put Up Paradise

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

May 28-29, 2013

On Cape Cod, the 15-town peninsula jutting off of mainland Massachusetts, ‘pahking lots’—or parking lots as they are known by some—are a big deal.

“In the off-season, it’s a daily routine for people to grab a newspaper, a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, a ‘nip’ if they need it from the liquor store next door, and drive down to the Paine’s Creek parking lot to watch the sunset,” said Jim Gallagher, the Conservation Administrator for the Town of Brewster. Although Gallagher was mostly joking about the ‘nip’ part, sure enough, as we interviewed him about beach erosion at Ellis Landing, a construction worker pulled his truck up to the edge of the parking lot to eat his lunch facing the waves. Continue reading

Climate-Ready Spaulding Hospital Will Keep Boston Strong

Boston, Massachusetts

May 30, 2013

Forward-thinking institutions like Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, which opened its doors April 2013, are using lessons learned from hospitals in other cities to prepare for natural disasters.

spaulding

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‘Live Free’ Spirit Could Keep Keene, NH Afloat

Keene, New Hampshire

Thursday, May 23

Duncan Watson and André both get the jitters when it rains. For Watson, Assistant Director of Public Works for Keene, New Hampshire, heavy precipitation events bring back memories of the massive storm the city experienced in October 2005 that dumped 11 inches of rain in 24 hours. Near Watson’s house, the Cold River overflowed, unleashing a 20-foot tall wall of water that wiped out many homes and killed seven people.

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Ann Arbor’s Climate-Smart Stormwater Utility

Ann Arbor, Michigan

May 16-20, 2013

We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees. In fact, the opposite is probably more true, as maintaining urban canopies and parks is a major expense for many local governments. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, a newly structured stormwater utility is helping the City pay for its namesake—and prompting residents to think differently about the connection between their land, water, and trees.

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Grand Rapids: A Little Riverside City with A Big Sustainability Punch

Grand Rapids, Michigan

May 15, 2013

Sitting in a conference room in the midst of Grand Rapids’ state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant, Mike Lunn, the Director of the City’s Environmental Services Department, tells us a story. It’s a universal story—one that applies to countless towns and cities as they cropped up across America:

First, in the late 1800s, they just sent raw sewage in pipes straight down to the river. When the city started smelling unpleasant, some bright individuals combined the sewer pipe system with the rainwater system, allowing the rain to naturally flush out the sewage pipes. But eventually, the river’s foul odor was too harsh on the olfactory glands, so they ran the pipes parallel along the riverbed, sending the sewage downstream. After a while the neighbors complained, so, in the 1930s, they built the first wastewater treatment plant to clean the sewage water before it reached the river.

In some cities, the story more or less ends there. But in Grand Rapids, the Environmental Service Department’s (ESD) attitude is that the plant’s processes need to be continually improving.

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