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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Regional Planning

Year Degree Awarded

2016

Month Degree Awarded

September

First Advisor

Elisabeth Hamin

Second Advisor

Robert L. Ryan

Third Advisor

Ezra Markowitz

Subject Categories

Urban Studies and Planning

Abstract

“I just drink more coffee and stay late” – declared the town planner of a small coastal community in the South of Boston, Massachusetts (MA) referring to the need of extra work to address climate change adaptation in a short-staffed planning department. These words illustrate one of the many common issues faced by planners of small and medium coastal communities in the region.

A systematic incorporation of climate change concerns into formal community planning, management, and infrastructure design is in nascent stage. The challenges of effective adaptation are complex and likely to be politically hard, especially at the local level where the impact of climate change is most likely to be experienced and administered.

Climate science is providing an increasingly sophisticated picture of possible climate alteration in future decades, and for coastal zones in particular, the potential consequences are a cause for mounting concern. The role of planners comes to a new level of importance because they urge to develop creative and innovative responses to adapt the built environment to these challenges. Efforts are needed to guide proactive adaptation actions that benefit coastal communities for present and future generations. Overall, there is a pressing need to move beyond vulnerability analysis and into implementation of adaptation action. In the real world, however, planners of small coastal communities are often times alone in their innumerable professional daily struggles and issues related to climate change are frequently placed in the bottom of their list of priorities.

One of the goals of the present research is to examine the status of climate adaptation planning at the local level in the coastal New England. The research also aims to investigate what are the preferred climate actions taken by these municipalities, the main forces behind the challenges faced by planners and city officials trying to deal with these issues and what they need to move forward in the adaptation planning.

The results of this study showed many similarities among these coastal communities in NE. Barriers repeatedly found in the literature such as lack of financial support, staff dedicated to this matter, political support and information were confirmed with high rates in all states. However, despite the challenges encountered, 36 communities were able to break the barriers and advance in the adaptation planning process.

The data collection for this study was divided in two phases: Phase 1 – In-person semi-structured interviews with planners in the coastal Massachusetts (conducted in 2011; n=15); Phase 2: Web-survey with city officials, mostly planners, of small and mid-sized coastal communities in New England, particularly the states of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut (Fall 2015, n=121). I focused on coastal areas, as these seemed the most likely to have begun considering climate change due to publicity about sea level rise and existing climate vulnerability.

This study brings a range of benefits to Massachusetts’ smaller coastal towns and cities, as well as to the broader region of New England. First, it generates empirically-based findings on what communities are doing to become better adapted to future climate, and why. This leads to improvements in our ability to advise communities on how to move ahead on this important topic based on their particular situation. These coastal communities constitute a system, like a string of intrinsically interconnected parts. These parts are not impacted alone by the challenges associated with climate change. For this reason the risks to which these communities are subject should be addressed collectively. Perhaps, this knowledge will be an important step to collaborate in the meeting of joint solutions for the region.

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