Ancient mariners caught in storms often called upon Poseidon, ruler of the seas, to save them and their ships from danger. The Greek god — or Neptune, if you prefer his Roman name — also had the power to cause earthquakes and tame wild horses. He might be a good guy to know these days, if you live in a coastal city facing sea level rise and other climate-related threats. In fact, statues of this powerful but capricious deity can be found in coastal cities in England, Sweden and the United States, among others.
Holding back the sea is more than just an academic discussion. Rising sea levels, caused by climate change, more frequent and intense storms and coastal erosion are all issues now gaining more attention, especially in the United States. Last month a Senate committee held a hearing on the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, an initiative that aims to reduce the impact of flooding on private and public structures and is set to expire this September. Time magazine recently profiled the efforts to keep the water at bay in New York, New Orleans, Boston and Miami. AECOM can’t claim to have a direct line to Poseidon, but we do have multidisciplinary teams working in all four of these cities to address their coastal resilience needs.
One of our assignments the article explores is New York’s Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency project. AECOM’s team is working to create a new vision for the shoreline that balances urban design and coastal engineering. The project grew out of a design competition in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and is now in the feasibility study and conceptual design phase. What’s remarkable about this project is that its scope goes beyond just what to build; we are also working with New York to develop the funding strategies that leverage the value of managing the risks posed by a changing climate.
In the Gulf Coast region, AECOM has been deeply involved in many aspects of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. We are assisting Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states to develop and test new resilience strategies and coastal restoration efforts. In partnership with Texas’s Rice University, we recently convened a group of experts and stakeholders to look at new ways to make Houston’s Galveston Bay more resilient to the challenges of storm surge and storm water flooding. The regional port facilities are critically important. Not only do they drive critical commerce in and out of Houston, but they support strategic energy assets critical to the region and the nation. This work builds on our port and harbor resilience efforts on both coasts as well as in cities such as London, Rotterdam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney and Shanghai.
Miami is another port city facing challenges from the sea. Here a group of officials representing the cities of Miami and Miami Beach along with Miami-Dade County have started to work jointly as part of the 100 Resilient Cities program, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, to develop a regional resilience strategy. With strategy support from AECOM, this group is looking at the big picture by connecting the environmental issue of flooding to social and economic issues, ranging from affordable housing to criminal justice to employment opportunities. The goal of this holistic approach is to help Miami develop a plan that provides different assets and opportunities to balance the needs of multiple stakeholders impacted by sea level rise.
We’re proud of our efforts supporting the 100 Resilient Cities program in Miami and across the globe. Ancient sailors called out to Poseidon or other deities to help them overcome the challenges of the sea. Today, national governments, individual jurisdictions, NGOs and the private sector are working together to develop and implement both short and long-term solutions to the challenges we face in our coastal cities from climate change and other threats. The historical record is a little fuzzy on whether Poseidon and the other gods and goddesses were actually helpful to those who reached out. But with our work with cities on six continents as evidence, I place my hope in the growing level of public-private and multidisciplinary collaboration. Only this approach can match the scale and complexity of our changing world.
Josh Sawislak is the global director of resilience for AECOM.