When I was in college, I noticed there was always a disconnect between the “civil” and “environmental” parts of my Civil/Environmental Engineering degree. Sometimes it even seemed like the nerds and the hippies were locked in a quiet (but epic!) struggle over the future of the world’s cities. These tensions were an understandable reflection of a persistent trend in the coastal protection community that continues to pit grey (traditional) and green (nature-based) approaches against each other in a quasi-moral battle.
One of the ironies of the green v grey coastal protection battle is that they are not mutually exclusive approaches; many times the best design solution is a combination of grey and green infrastructure working together. Green and grey infrastructure are on the same team, and that team’s goal is to take action on any number of difficult coastal protection problems cities are grappling with: hurricane risk, saltwater intrusion, coastal erosion, tidal flooding, sea level rise. Arguing about green versus grey infrastructure makes taking action on coastal protection harder than it already is.
In the spirit of taking action and focusing on outcomes, here are a few interesting examples of successfully built green and grey coastal protection projects and the innovations that make them stand out.
It is paramount for all nature-based coastal protection projects to plan for, and execute long-term evaluation and monitoring to determine the project’s performance, such as resulting reduction of wave height. This is essential to ensure that more traditional engineers accept these softer solutions as viable. The support of more traditional engineers is key to the replicability and scalability of these nature-based solutions.
There are cases when no amount of green infrastructure will solve extreme, chronic coastal flooding. In those cases, it’s a good thing traditional grey solutions are becoming smarter, more flexible, and more sustainable. We should applaud that progress and seek to replicate it, when appropriate. These are some examples we’ve been thinking about recently:
The coastal cities that are taking action are generally doing so because they are experiencing real, tangible impacts of coastal flooding today, and they are aware that those problems are going to get worse in the future. In these cities, floods are costing businesses now; they’re increasing insurance prices now; they’re affecting home prices now.
These cities don’t have the luxury of discriminating between green and grey solutions. They need the solution that is best for their community. Rightfully so, these cities are focused on outcomes: How many homes will this solution protect, and from what size storms? How much will it cost?
The cities and states that pursued the projects listed above have taken tangible action on coastal protection. Why have they moved forward, when so many others are failing? Capturing their success factors is important in helping other cities replicate these coastal innovations, both green and grey, in their own communities. Here are some of the factors that may have allowed these projects to move forward:
In a lot of cases, the factors listed above are proxies for political will. For example, when a project solves a pressing problem that matters to citizens, elected officials are likely to enthusiastically support the project. And when there’s political will, projects tend to move forward when they otherwise would not.
We’ve listed a few success factors, but this is certainly not a comprehensive list. There are many important factors that move coastal protection projects forward from initial design to construction and operation. Are there any coastal protection projects you’ve come across recently that inspire you?
This content was originally posted on Meeting of the Minds: http://meetingoftheminds.org/blog.