To prepare for elevated sea levels that are projected to flood their historic downtown over the next 50 years, officials from Bath, Maine, met with the AIA’s new Design and Resiliency Team (DART) to discuss strategic responses for this potentially grim future.

The DART pilot program was created to assist smaller city governments in addressing resiliency issues via strategy sessions with both national and local interdisciplinary experts. In partnership with the New England Municipal Sustainability Network, it is aimed at communities in New England that displayed a commitment to conflict resolution and a need to address their problems in a timely fashion.

“We want to highlight the importance of developing strategies for small jurisdictions,” says Joel Mills, director of the AIA’s Center for Communities by Design and lead on the DART program. “Smaller cities without as many resources create even more urgency to have effective plans in place. They can’t afford to wait; they can’t respond in an instant. They need to be planning earlier.”

All major businesses and industrial areas in Bath are located on the banks of the Kennebec River, which provides the city with its primary source of revenue but will eventually threaten its very existence. After an intensive research project with the Maine Coastal Program and Maine Geological Survey, it was determined that much of the downtown area would be vulnerable to flooding if levels were to rise by two or more feet. It was also estimated that such an increase will occur by the year 2064.

Because of Bath’s size and limited resources, the city sought outside assistance to plan for the now-expected surge. After being rejected in an attempt to secure federal funding, Bath representatives suggested a partnership with the AIA, which named Bath DART’s pilot project, which will minimize future damage to new and existing structures better equipped to handle flooding.

The plans that were subsequently developed for Bath may be too specific to replicate elsewhere, since the city’s problems are unique to its geographical situation. But other cities in the area will suffer from issues related to rising sea levels, and the ultimate purpose of the DART program is to demonstrate how urban design can assist vulnerable populations in need.

“Our goals are to promote the value of design in conversations about resiliency,” says Mills, “and promote the value of architects as resources to figure out these strategies.”

For more information on DART, an initiative of the AIA’s Sustainable Design Assessment Teams program, visit