Sea Level Rise: A Modern Threat with a Long History

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Modern Threat w/ a Long History

Looking at the big picture of sea level rise

We’ve been touting Keeping History Above water as a “groundbreaking conference” on the matter of sea level rise, and indeed we believe it to be one of the first international conversations to address the threat posed to historic coastal communities and their built environments. However, there are many places throughout the world where this is nothing new.

New Orleans, of course, is no stranger to the threats posed by rising waters. Since its founding, residents have lived with the daily reality of a city surrounded by water, its very existence dependent on the strength of its levees. In 2005, we all saw just how harsh that reality can be when levee breaches caused by Hurricane Katrina inundated roughly 80% of the city, with some areas under as much as 15 feet of water.

In 1900, Galveston, TX, an island city perched less than nine feet above sea level, saw a 15-foot storm surge during a Category 4 hurricane. In the aftermath, much of the city needed to be rebuilt, a sea wall was constructed and, perhaps most importantly, dredged sand was used to raise the elevation of the city by as much as 17 feet.

In 1954, Iran, with the Caspian Sea to its north and the Persian Gulf to its south, experienced its worst flooding ever, killing approximately 10,000 people. In the Netherlands, rising seas and flooding transformed Lake Almere into an inland sea known as Zuiderzee – all the way back in the 1100s. And Venice, Italy, a city literally built upon water, has been dealing with flood control since ancient times.

Day Two of Keeping History Above Water includes speakers from all of these places who will share experiences, exchange ideas, and propose solutions.

David Waggonner, of Waggonner and Ball Architects in New Orleans, will join our panel on “Informing Action.” He has championed plans for post-Katrina New Orleans to embrace its precarious relationship to the water that surrounds it, and his firm was a key participant in the Recovery Plan for St. Bernard Parish.

Postcards from the Edge: U.S. Case Studies” is a panel that features Matthew Pelz, Director of Center for Coastal Heritage at the Galveston Historical Foundation. This project provides research, education, and strategies for coastal resilience in this historic coastal community.

Experts on Iran, the Netherlands, and Venice will all contribute to another panel, “Postcards from the Edge: Global and Historical Precedents.” Matthijs de Boer is the City Planner-Architect for Rotterdam, Netherlands, a city within a river delta at the North Sea and Europe’s largest cargo port. Khosro Movahed, Professor of Architecture and Regional Planning at the Shiraz Branch of Iran’s Islamic Azad University, has studied the role of people in saving the historic coastal city of Bushehr, which was once the country’s chief seaport. Anna Somer Cocks is the former chair of the Venice In Peril Fund, which works to restore and protect the city’s immense cultural heritage from the waters that define it.

Together, these advocates, thought leaders, and problem solvers represent just a fraction of the cumulative expertise and institutional knowledge we will bring together at Keeping History Above Water. The communities they serve remind us that while some of our approaches may be new, the problems are as old as nature itself.