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August 11-13, 2015
Hilton Garden Inn, Suffolk, VA


Local culture and adaptation

Mason Andrews, Architecture, Hampton University

In the 2014/5 academic year, a study of the Norfolk neighborhood Chesterfield Heights was undertaken to explore strategies for adapting to sea level rise prior to a natural catastrophe, apparently the first such study nationally. Begun with a small grant from Virginia Sea Grant to Wetlands Watch, the work was carried out by students and faculty at Hampton University’s Department of Architecture and Old Dominion University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, with an on-call roster of professional and academic advisors from a number of relevant fields. The neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so preservation of these cultural artifacts was a crucial point of study. Its residents are predominately African-American with low to moderate incomes. Many residents have lived in the neighborhood for generations, and social capital and social cohesion are high.

Work began with extensive interviewing of residents and a search for pre-existing geotechnical and hydrological studies. Issues of the impact of raising houses was studied, and eventually rejected in favor of proposing a parcel by parcel and street by street exploration of finding ways to store water until the undersized storm water system can recover after periods of intense rain. Studies indicated that street flooding from rainfall could be achieved with the following: minor modifications to the storm water system - tidal check valves on outflow to keep water from backing up into the neighborhood and reconfiguration of existing intakes to minimize current clogging; community members’ commitment to keeping rooftop runoff on their property by using cisterns or rain gardens; installation of a series of pervious sidewalk and parking zones over under-street cisterns; and small bio-retention planting beds along the street verge. These low impact solutions should keep the neighborhood significantly drier and safer. The participation of residents in being part of the network of solutions on their own property is seen as a fundamental benefit to long-term resilience as well.

Subsequently, the Elizabeth River Project and the City of Norfolk have begun looking for funding to implement components of the project, including it in the NDRC funding application. The neighborhood was made a part of the recent Dutch Dialogues Virginia - Life at Sea Level. The academic group plans to continue with further projects and to establish a cross-disciplinary, cross-university concentration in adaptation strategies.