[PIG] Shoreline Adaptations to Flooding in Urban Waterways (SASFUW)

Title: Shoreline Adaptations to Flooding in Urban Waterways (SASFUW) (rolls off the tongue)
Team Member names: Celeste LeCompte & Danielle Butler

Short summary of your improvement idea:

The project was inspired by a question about climate change: When will the water have risen? Sea level rise is not, it turns out, a steady process of creeping shorelines. Inspired by challenges explored in Rosanna Xia’s book “California Against the Sea,” we began to wonder: how many floods will it take for a piece of land to be considered part of the water? What a fascinating and murky thing to consider! How will that new shoreline reflect the potential of the future — not just a piecemeal, reactionary defense against rising waters that continue trends of disconnection, disenfranchisement, and unintended consequences?

This protocol improvement will examine and map responses to sea level rise and flooding on urban shorelines in hopes that we can answer these questions proactively. We will compare timelines and chart infrastructure changes and interrogate climate change regulations that are shaping urban waterways in cities around the world. Historic pollution, tidal range, and current will also be included to give context to the challenges that many waterways face. Outcomes of access and diversity of use and culture will be included. The result will be a tool to enable laypeople who live along waterways to more deeply consider what futures are possible and encourage more diverse participation in shaping climate change adaptations and thus the cities we live in.


1. What is the existing target protocol you are hoping to improve or enhance? Eg: hand-washing, traffic system, connector standards, carbon trading.

The existing protocol is how cities have adapted their shorelines to contend with flooding. This is an emerging protocol, the information is present in the infrastructure and regulations of individual cities around the world. However, these responses have not been systematically gathered in a way that enables comparison, learning, and extrapolation for places currently making choices about waterway development.

2. What is the core idea or insight about potential improvement you want to pursue?

The core idea resides in what feels like a missed opportunity in how New York City is engaging with sea level rise. A widely criticized plan from the Army Corps of Engineers calls for high concrete walls, sea gates, and large berms. However, many places around the world have vibrant shorelines and adaptations to sea level rise to support social infrastructure and continued engagement with the water. Many of New York’s current plans exacerbate separation from the water and push flood waters into historically disenfranchised neighborhoods. The opportunity here is to develop a tool that would enable stakeholders in urban waterfront communities to consider a broader scope of possibilities and diversify the people taking part in conversations about the future of our shorelines. Although we are developing these insights from the perspective of New Yorkers the outcome would apply to a deeper consideration of any waterway.

3. What is your discovery methodology for investigating the current state of the target protocol? Eg: field observation, expert interviews, historical data analysis, failure event analysis

We have been actively engaged in shoreline development in New York City, and we’ve learned about the city, state, and federal players that shape and limit opportunities. We’ve seen how local communities have resisted and engaged with those entities. Danielle with her organization Tideland Institute conducted field observations on waterways in Belgrade, Copenhagen, Venice, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, Chicago, and New York. During those trips, relationships were developed with groups and people working on those waterways. The next steps will be to add to what we’ve learned experientially by studying the timeline of development, the extent and type of regulations, and climate change specific policies, to put those examples in context, and to conduct more formal interviews with experts — both traditional experts and community-based leaders who have developed on-the-ground expertise in rethinking possibilities. What pathways exist that enable alternatives to happen? Part of the process is to identify patterns — protocols — of activism, engagement, and use cases that enable vibrant and adaptive shorelines.

4. In what form will you prototype your improvement idea? Eg: Code, reference design implementation, draft proposal shared with experts for feedback, A/B test of ideas with a test audience, prototype hardware, etc.

The outcome would be a toolkit featuring the varying paths that cities have taken and highlighting the critical steps and outcomes. Our goal would be to identify a standard set of elements and considerations for cities learning to live with water, rather than in opposition to it. This toolkit could become a website or a book, allowing laypeople to examine the choices that have been made along urban shorelines and thus consider what’s possible. Included materials would include essays, interviews, and images. In New York conversations about water access often include someone saying “But we can’t do that here because of the current, the tide, the pollution . . .” Yet Hamburg, Germany has a larger tidal range and fast currents, contends with flooding while still maintaining a dynamic relationship to the water that includes recreational boating, social berms, and water access. The goal of our output would be to enable a comparison of these various factors so communities along urban waterways could explore how similar places have responded to changing shorelines and think more expansively about what is possible.

5. How will you field-test your improvement idea? Eg: run a restricted pilot at an event, simulation, workshop, etc.

Who will be able to judge the quality of your output? Ideally name a few suitable judges.

This protocol covers events that are in a shifting category. Flooding, once considered more of a black swan event, now must be seen as inevitable. Part of the intent of this project is to enable more people to consider what we want the future of our shorelines to be. Thus the output should be accurate, useful for comparison, digestible, and encourage personal interrogation and reflection. Creating a first form in a website will enable many points for evaluations, first with experts and then with laypeople. Other possibilities include public events with large-scale projections or prints along waterways so people who would not self-sort towards finding this information can happen upon it. Celeste LeCompte and I have a tested track record for creating events along and on waterways, relationships with waterway experts, artists, and activists in multiple cities worldwide, and large mailing lists to reach waterfront communities in New York.

Experts, we would ask to review our findings:

Willis Elkins (Newtown Creek Alliance), Tega Brain (FloodNet), Pete Malinowski (ED Billion Oyster Project), Margaret Frisbie (Friends of the Chicago River), Rosanna Xia (LA Times), Joseph Sutkowi (Waterfront Alliance)

6. How will you publish and evangelize your improvement idea? Eg: Submit proposal to a standards body, publish open-source code, produce and release a software development kit etc.

We would want this project to reach various stakeholders along waterways - people already working on and about water, people already interested in waterways as hobbyists, and communities that live near urban waterways. The networks and mailing lists of the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club and Tideland Institute would both be utilized to share our findings.

7. What is the success vision for your idea?

Creating materials that engage a broader scope of people in the complex issues of sea level rise and urban adaptation.


Hey - good seeing you both at the coworking session today! Here are some things that might be of interest:

  • The Adaptation Game: a game where participants think through what actions they might take to make themselves and their neighborhood resilient to climate change.
  • Anna Lenhart’s talk on using games as a part of citizen panels as a way to get non-experts to engage with complex topics and articulate their opinions and values.
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