You are here:Home/Research/ Support for Research/ Fellowships/ Fellowship Reports/ 2015–2016/ The Nature of Urban Coastal Resiliency: Twentieth-Century Governance, Environmental Management, and Design

The Nature of Urban Coastal Resiliency: Twentieth-Century Governance, Environmental Management, and Design

Kara Schlichting, Queens College, City University of New York, Mellon Fellow 2015–2016, Spring

While the coastal zone can be defined by landscape and its dynamic system of morphology and hydrography, it is also a construct, an idea imposed on a landscape to delineate governance powers. As a fellow, I investigated how the concept of the coastal zone was first developed in federal legislation in the 1970s, framing the littoral as a public utility in need of management and the location of substantial economic investment in need of protection. Through my research, I realized that—to understand how governance intersected with the material nature of the littoral—it was necessary to reframe the chronology of the coastal zone. The 1930s–1950s underscores work in environmental studies and coastal engineering that 1970s governance initiatives overshadows: hurricanes and the US Army Corps of Engineers’ (the corps) efforts to protect coasts from them. This history is defined not by legislation by but the environment. In studying hurricanes, the corps first conceptualized the particular vulnerabilities of southern New England’s coastal zone. As a result, in 1957, the corps embarked on an ambitious hurricane-unique comprehensive survey of Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. My research led me to two realizations that will frame future work. First, the corps’s work in the 1930s–1950s was frequently based on a conceptual binary that problematically disconnected the littoral’s land-water environments. Second, different frameworks developed around two definitions of coastal hazards: short-term, violent hazards (such as hurricanes), and long-term incremental hazards (such as sea-level rise or beach erosion). Due to these differing evaluations, government agencies saw different things as being at risk, which inspired different modes of protection.