By offering county managers, administrations, boards of supervisors, school boards, superintendents and planning district commissions the right tools to determine priorities, the atlas is ensuring that future discussions focus on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations who are often left out.
“We want to make sure there is a more comprehensive view of the region when decisions are being made,” Downing said. “This will be the steering wheel for the process, and we will build it in a way that will be most impactful for us, meaning the data being collected are the things we are most interested in for our county.”
By the end of the project’s five-year timeline, the goal is that the atlas is completely community-driven and is used to guide regional decisions – and not only in Accomack County. Once developed, the map’s coding will be open to the public in order to implement place-based projects in coastal communities around the country.
Through the creation of a data-rich, community-driven set of tools that can adapt to new climate data, local leaders will be able to pinpoint who is facing inequity challenges and why, allowing governments to identify acute needs.
“My primary goal is to bring influential data to the people who make decisions … so they can see where they are spending money and where they are not spending money,” Elliott said. “And let that be the catalyst for change.”
Living on a peninsula, Downing emphasizes that coastal flooding is an issue that affects every resident, meaning two things: that everyone should become knowledgeable about it; and second, to find ways that environmental justice efforts, teachings and research can help combat it. As the baton is passed to younger generations, she said she hopes the momentum from the past two decades is built upon to ensure that the Eastern Shore thrives, improving livelihoods and economic value.
“It is my hope that residents of the Eastern Shore hear and see these efforts being made, and that others become interested and engaged,” Downing said. “The only way for us to do better is to acknowledge the problem that we have, to talk and to be intentional in the conversations that we have about how we can overcome it.
“I want to see the children and the people, the generations on the Shore, live the best life that they can here. For many of them, they have no desire to move anywhere else.”