Report: West Coast Must Come to Terms With Managed Retreat

As sea levels rise, experts say coastal communities have to overcome their resistance to managed retreat and plan for relocation.

1 minute read

May 10, 2023, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


In a Smart Cities Dive brief, Ysabelle Kempe outlines the findings of a report from the Ocean & Climate Platform that warns West Coast communities to prepare for managed retreat, a “long-term transformative option” for mitigating sea level rise that many cities have been reluctant to consider.

The practice of relocating people and infrastructure remains contentious and has led to political conflict, notably over potential tax revenue loss for cities, the report says. It adds that communities are still primarily preventing coastal erosion with physical “armoring” such as seawalls, but there is a growing interest in nature-based solutions such as restoration of oyster reefs and wetlands.

The report “calls for a reframing of the debate around managed retreat” that would “rethink the intersection of built and natural spaces” in a way that is “anticipated, consented to and integrated in phased and flexible manners” for the community. The report names as examples the relocation of several segments of California state highway that secured the roadway and enabled shoreline restoration.

The report urges communities to begin planning as soon as possible to avoid higher costs in the future, but acknowledges that much of California coastal real estate “simply remains too financialized, and properties retain too much economic value” to easily relocate.

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