Planning for Sea Level Rise at Harbor Park

Eleven of the world’s fifteen largest cities lie along the coast or on estuaries.

In the US over 50% of the population lives near the coast. Virginia and its Elizabeth River have some of the highest rates of sea level rise in the world. The Hampton Roads metropolitan area, where the Elizabeth serves as one of the world’s busiest ports, ranks 19th worldwide in value of assets at risk from storm surges and tidal flooding by 2100. As one of the most threatened US coastal cities, nearly 25% of Norfolk city land lies in the 100-year floodplain. Sea level could rise as much at 7.5 feet here by 2100.  Beginning in 2016, a trans-disciplinary team of UVA researchers has been collaborating with governmental and community partners to reconceive a half-mile long living shoreline that fallen into disrepair over several decades, having become a coastal brownfield site, cut off from downtown Norfolk by a tangle of elevated highways. The UVA team studied building typologies that work with fluctuating water levels (eg. floating buildings, elevating habitable areas on piers, lower levels designed to be inundated by occasional flooding), and demonstrates resilient environmental, social, and economic strategies such as a wetland inundation park or a linear riparian park fronting blocks of floodwall and levee protected buildings, floating islands, and other restored ecologies.