A study led by a landscape architect from the University of Hawaii combines climate adaptation and beachfront access.
By Timothy A. Schuler
US-controlled islands such as Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa are rarely mentioned in US climate coverage, but the projected impacts of sea-level rise on island communities are serious and far-reaching. According to a report from Hawaii State Coastal Zone Management program, if seas rise as predicted over the next century, Honolulu will face an acute loss of “precious urban land, the geographic isolation of Waikiki, frequent disruptions to… transportation systems, and loss of priceless possessions. Flooding can render much of the current urban district uninhabitable.
This report was published in 1985. In the 35 years since, Hawaii has taken little discernible action to mitigate or adapt to this future. In 2012, a law was passed establishing statewide policy guidelines for climate change adaptation, but only required state agencies to “explore adaptation strategies” to respond to climate change. sea level rise. Now, a recent study of the University of Hawaii Community Design Center (UHCDC) will provide a foundation for a more serious debate about Hawaii’s climate future and define a vision for a more resilient, better connected, and people-centered waterfront. The long title of the study, SSouth Shore Promenade and Coastal Open Space Network Study: Resilience and Connectivity by Design, highlights its twin and intertwined concerns: climate adaptation and increased access to the Honolulu coastline. (The latter is particularly important in a State where public access to coastal areas is guaranteed by law but where, in practice, obstacles remain.)
Funded by the State of Hawaii, the study was conducted by Judith Stilgenbauer, ASLAthe director of the landscape architecture program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, as well as a team of landscape architecture professors and students from UHCDC. At 450 pages, the document maps the extent of climate-related threats to Honolulu’s main urban center and proposes a roughly 20-mile coastal walkway that would connect a series of amphibious green spaces. It provides site-level concepts for three particularly high-risk areas, proposing radical transformations that would resolve flood risk for vulnerable communities in part through the reintroduction of Hawaiian agricultural systems.
“You can’t look at a living shoreline system in Hawaii without recognizing that there once was this remarkable sequence of productive freshwater ecosystems,” Stilgenbauer says. “Law then fish ponds, then ocean fisheries. All of these could be part of layered living shoreline systems.
While not an achievable plan, the study is valuable for how it visualizes living shorelines in an island context, says Justine Nihipali, manager of the state’s coastal zone management program. . In 2020, the state formalized its intention to continue nature-based coastal infrastructure by banning levees and other shoreline reinforcement measures on private property. But Nihipali says that while there’s “a big push to work on nature-based solutions, we don’t really know what that looks like here, because we have higher energy coasts than a lot of places that implement living shores”.
Matthew Gonser, Honolulu’s director of resilience and a landscape architect by training, says the notion of a publicly accessible and more connected coastline recognizes the important cultural relationship between Hawaii’s land and waters and aligns with the policy recently adopted by the city. Climate action plan, which includes an effort to reduce carbon emissions from transportation, which account for 45% of the city’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. “Much of the waterfront is not very well connected or accessible,” he says. “People-powered micro-mobility improvements can make a big contribution to [support] not just public health, but climate action.