#cnu17 Lizz Plater-Zyberk on Coping With Climate Change

The climate change discussion always makes Lizz Plater-Zyberk think of two different aphorisms, she said Wednesday during the DPZ pre-Congress workshop on "Settlements for the 21st Century."

One is about the elephant surrounded by a group of blind people, each of whom can touch only part of the animal. "Each one understands only a piece of the problem."

The other aphorism is that if all you have is a hammer, you see all problems as nails. Some people will claim that the urban growth boundary is the solution to global warming, for instance. And Plater-Zyberk understands why people can feel that way. "I'm a good hammer always looking for the nails I know."

She was presenting on her work as chairman of the built environment committee of the Miami-Dade Climate Change Advisory Task Force. Miami is widely considered one of the American cities most likely to be affected by the sea level rise now seen as inevitable over the coming decades. Miami's highest elevation is 14 feet above sea level.

Over the next 50 to 100 years, Miami is expected to experience rising temperatures and water levels, increasing intensity in both storms and droughts, and saltwater intrusion into ecosystems that today are based on fresh water. And because the water comes up from below, it can't simply be walled out with dikes.

The changes will affect agriculture and tourism. "Insurance costs have already reached crisis proportions," Plater-Zyberk said. "It's already happening in Miami Beach. Everyone has to take their car in to be fixed the same week after a big storm."

The challenge she posed was this: What is the conceptual structure for climate change? What can be done to make it simple to talk and think about, especially with people who don't want to think about it?

There are two broad kinds of responses to climate change: mitigation and adaptation. Adaptation is the Built Environment Committee's task. The big question behind adaptation is, how do we increase the resilience of our natural environment?

She showed a decision tree that identified issues and actions around infrastructure, buildings, the natural environment, and also regional networks. This last rubric considers systemic issues like land use patterns.

Sites can be remediated according to where they fit on the tree. High-value, high-density, high-investment commercial properties may justify additional retrofitting to adapt to rising sea levels. Or they may not need that much. Conversely, some low-value, low-density properties may need to be allowed to "devolve," or revert to nature. Some roads may need to be reinforced by raising the level of the earth.

Plater-Zyberk also insisted that a central regional authority is needed to manage this whole process. "But people don't want to hear this. That's why the decision tree is useful for informed decisionmaking.

She identified three steps in making change:
1. Social marketing: This consists of presenting appealing scenarios and successful approaches to solving the problem – the way LEED Certification is seen as a solution to the problem of making buildings greener. With climate change, though, "We haven't [yet] shown the route through it."
2. Facilitation: This involves removing impediments to progressive change – measures equivalent to "removing laws against solar collectors on the roof." It also involves incentives and subsidies to get people to do the right thing.
3. Regulation: This is the third wave, equivalent to saying, "The Smart Code is going to be the code of our city."

She ended on an upbeat note: A Dover-Kohl study of how transportation infrastructure is likely to be affected by rising sea levels found that main roads and railroads were largely well placed when they were first built. "Somehow people knew where the high ground was," Plater-Zyberk said. People had "a pre-technological understanding of the land is useful even today."


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