Everything you need to know about Norfolk’s preparation for sea level rise is illuminated by one simple, depressing fact: Norfolk’s prized $318 million light rail was built at sea level, as reported by the Washington Post.
That kind of lack of foresight is scandalous.
We are already behind the eight ball here, folks. Look at Holland. According to the wizards at Wikipedia, “by 1250 the Dutch had a series of dikes connected into a continuous sea defense.” We are at least decades slow in our adaptations, if not hundreds and hundreds of years.
Meanwhile, government officials distribute pamphlets whose first line is “The City of Norfolk is a model of resilience.”
Let’s be honest: when the sea foam starts to hit the fan, it’s going to be bad for business in Norfolk, with a ripple effect throughout Hampton Roads.
“My concern was, it might not be a wise place to invest in general,” said a prospective Norfolk homeowner in this 2014 Pilot article, “Norfolk sea level rise takes shine off waterfront homes.”
“With climate change, what is the area going to look like?” wondered another prospective homeowner in this NPR piece, “As Sea Levels Rise, Norfolk Is Sinking And Planning.” “What are my investment opportunities?”
What is going to happen to the housing market when banks stop offering 30-year mortgages to entire neighborhoods? What will happen to our neighborhoods when insurance companies refuse to insure them? When does property and development start to look like investments that folks won’t necessarily be able to pass on to their children and grandchildren?
What is going to happen when the military starts to leave? According to 2013 USA Today article titled “Rising sea levels torment Norfolk, Va., and coastal U.S.”:
The Army Corps of Engineers did a three-year case study… that found Naval Station Norfolk’s vital infrastructure won’t survive the powerful storms and flooding expected in the latter half of this century.
There is something about the human mind that allows it to believe that if we pretend like reality isn’t real for long enough, our fantasies will replace reality. There have been decades of magical thinking in Norfolk that the federal government will inevitably save our city. As long as landmark cities like New York City and Miami are at similar risk, it would be foolish to sit and wait for Superman. The change is coming. The change is here.
It’s going to be the end of Norfolk as we know it. But we’ll be fine.
The City is taking an important step toward a more sustainable future. As cynical as I can be about humanity’s ability to think beyond our own lifespans, I am hopeful about the NorfolkVision2100 process currently happening. It is “a new beginning for us as we think about resiliency in our cities,” as one City official put it at a kick-off breakfast recently held at Crossroads Elementary. There was talk about a new, better Norfolk. My greatest hope lies in the process itself: the City is asking for feedback from citizens, and I damn sure hope they’re listening.
“We’re planning for things most of us won’t be around for,” said one official.
Picturing a future Norfolk partially-underwater is terrifying, yes, but it will also be magical, in a way, if we stick together, stay positive, and get innovative. Canals. Parking lots replaced with marshland. And those closed fists shaken at mother nature, sea walls.
There are three goals of NorfolkVision2100: (1) design a coastal community of the future; (2) create economic opportunity by growing existing and new sectors; and (3) de-concentrate poverty and strengthen neighborhoods.
“We are accepting that residents have solutions to make their neighborhoods great,” said another City official.
The word accept notwithstanding–listening to citizens is never a failure–this sentiment is music to my civic-engagement-loving ears. But we have to do our part and be engaged, knowledgeable, passionate. ODU’s Center for Sea Level Rise should have more than 137 likes on Facebook, if you know what I mean.
An important aspect of NorfolkVision2100 is a mapping asset process. The purpose is to give citizens a chance to say which parts of Norfolk, essentially, are most worth saving… and how. This is a hard conversation, a Sophie’s Choice. Yet in every challenge lies wondrous possibilities. We might lose parts of neighborhoods, but we have the opportunity to set American best practice for sea level rise adaptation.
We have to temper our nostalgia and be ready to make the right choices not just for Norfolk, but for the region; not just to protect the wealthy but to also empower the poor.
Please attend one of the following community meetings. Our leadership, god love ’em, has thus far shown a distressing lack of urgency addressing the fate of the ground that is, literally, the City of Norfolk.
The citizens have to be there, leading the leaders.
|1st Community Meeting – Westside Neighborhoods
Thursday, January 21st – 5:30-7:00 p.m.
First Baptist Lambert’s Point
|2nd Community Meeting – Central Neighborhoods & Southside
Thursday, February 4th – 5:30-7:00 p.m.
Huntersville Multipurpose Center
|3rd Community Meeting – Ocean View and Little Creek Areas
Thursday, February 18th – 5:30-7:00 p.m.
Mary T. Pretlow Library
|4th Community Meeting – Eastern Neighborhoods
Saturday, February 27th – 9-10:30 a.m.
Norview Community Center