Steven Bingler, AIA, is the founder and CEO of Concordia, a New Orleans–based architecture firm that helped lead recovery in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. He has since worked to identify solutions to climate risks in areas that are increasingly experiencing climate- related emergencies. Bingler is known for his work in managed retreat, which aims to proactively move people, structures, and infrastructure out of harm’s way before disasters or other threats occur.
Adaptation means you stay where you are, and you adapt to the climate conditions as they change—in this case, as they continue to get more challenging. When they get to the point where you can no longer comfortably survive in a particular climate or place, you have no choice but to look at other measures.
Wildfires, drought, inland flooding, riverine flooding, coastal hurricanes, storm surge—all of these events are factors that we as planners are going to be faced with over the next 20, 30, 50 years. According to the science, conditions will get significantly worse as we move closer to the end of the century. The latest [estimated] number of people who will be dislocated due to coastal flooding is around 13 million, according to the University of Southern California.
It’s now time for us to start planning to see how infrastructure could be redesigned in smaller towns so they can be prepared to take on some of the migration from the coast. Nobody wants to leave their home and people will do almost anything to stay where they are because that’s where their families are; that’s where they grew up; that’s what they’re used to. We’ve learned in our research in South Louisiana that people are jacking their houses up as much as 30 feet in the air.
We can expect the cost of these movements, migrations, and the rebuilding of someof our cities to be excessive. They’ll be inflationary. It’s time for us to be thinking from a budgeting point of view, nationally and internationally, about how we’re going to accommodate all those costs. And it is incumbent upon professional planners and
architects to take on the role of educating the community about what the conditions are, and what they can expect, because elected officials are not likely to do it.
There was a time when a lot of us felt like maybe the climate crisis could be averted and that we could reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, for example. I think that’s happening to some degree, but nowhere near the level that would be required for us to avoid some of the catastrophic changes that are coming. Architects have demonstrated that we can rise to the occasion: for example, by making buildings that are more energy efficient. But we’re now in a more advanced stage of understanding how to live and plan with nature.
I would encourage everyone in the profession to spend time getting up to speed with the tools that are available and especially the processes for engaging communities in a meaningful way. If there’s any big lesson to be learned here, it’s that when people’s lives are at stake, they want to be involved extensively in any planning that’s defining the pathway for their future.