LET IT BETTER | Landscape architecture magazine


Nantucket Island, where looming sea level rise has done little to slow down the housing market. Photo by Maggie Janik.

In the face of likely climate setback, student design studios are exploring ways to improve Nantucket’s coastal resilience.

On Nantucket Island off the coast of Massachusetts, half of the 10 highest tides on record came in 2018 alone, and flooding is a constant concern that puts the tourist economy and historic buildings at risk. . “But that hasn’t slowed down the real estate market,” said Cecil Barron Jensen, executive director of local nonprofit ReMain Nantucket. It has been a “banner year” for buying and selling homes, she says. The average price of homes in Nantucket is nearly $ 1.8 million, according to Zillow, up almost 10% from a year ago.

Island real estate brokers, Jensen says, talk about the flooding in terms of timing. “How long do you want to enjoy this house?” You can take advantage of this house for this a long time, ”she said. Even for the wealthy, the good life in Nantucket becomes a finite commodity, as the dissonance between the copious trade in seaside views and the climate cataclysm becomes harder to ignore.

Finding ways for Nantucket to coexist with rising waters is the goal of the Envision Resilience Nantucket Challenge, an initiative of Jensen’s ReMain Nantucket to bring teams of design students on board in a collaborative design studio to deliver solutions. . Overall, these proposals, on display at the Nantucket Historical Association’s Thomas Macy warehouse through December, focus on soft edges, careful retreats, and ways to bring native habitats, ecologies, and people to mix productively with water. Students from five design programs (Yale, Harvard, University of Miami, University of Florida, and Northeastern University) presented their work, all produced remotely, to the Nantucket community in early June.

Flood conditions in Nantucket, which has been hit by half of its 10 highest tides on record in recent years. Photo by Kimberly Rose.

In the absence of Nantucket’s plans to implement the winning projects, Jensen sees these proposals as a starting point for exploration. “When we asked the students to participate, we promised them that we would detach them from the reality of the Nantucket planning matrix, which allowed them to be really free to use their imaginations,” she says. “The reaction from the community has been wide-eyed wonder.”

The Envision Resilience Nantucket Challenge focused primarily on three coastal sections of the island. Photo by Maggie Janik.

Nantucket can afford to dream big. ReMain Nantucket is backed by significant philanthropic support and was founded by Wendy Schmidt, the wife of billionaire and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, one of the richest people in the world.

Envision Resilience Nantucket, the umbrella organization for the challenge, has garnered support from local environmentalists and environmentalists. Both aspects are represented in proposals from the Northeastern University studio of Sara Jensen Carr, ASLA, which explored three categories of interventions: housing, hybrid engineering and transitional ecologies. The latter category contained some of the team’s more extreme transformations, including the Pocket Ecology of landscape architecture student Cassandra Lanson, who redefines much of the island as a bird sanctuary, embracing the cliché of l ‘put a bird on’ landscape architecture! Carr said.

The Pocket Ecology imagines much of Nantucket as a bird sanctuary. Image courtesy of Cassandra Lanson.

“I got into the project thinking, ‘Let’s come up with the most radical idea,’ because of course it’s minimized,” Lanson says.

Almost half of Nantucket is already made up of conserved land, and Lanson imagines this vast habitat expanding in stages, starting with pocket marshes and vacant land. Eventually, the ocean permanently settles into what used to be the streets of Nantucket, and the debris of abandoned homes becomes habitat for underwater ecologies, with seagrass doing the work of phytoremediation.

Stoss Landscape Urbanism founder Chris Reed, FASLA, said his Harvard Graduate School of Design studio is looking for ways to unravel the island’s web of connections between land, ecology and economy. For example, a proposal from Fabiana Casale, ASLA student, and Maria Ulloa, ASLA student, concerned the barrier peninsula that protects Nantucket. “If you lose the barrier, the impact will be huge,” Reed says. “The erasure of this will have an impact on the port, it will have an impact on private property, it will induce further erosion of the cliffs. “

Inhabiting instabilities lays vast pierscapes that stretch out into the ocean. Image courtesy of Gena Morgis and Caleb Negash.

Inhabiting Instabilities by GSD students Gena Morgis and Caleb Negash proposed arrays of jetty platforms that sink deep into the ocean to create a porous edge. These piers and platforms are both a tectonic (but modifiable) basis for architecture and also a habitat creation tool. Jetties, or simple piles of rocks, can slow water down and drop sediment before being transported out to sea, “a rumbling band under the water’s surface,” says Morgis. Extending the piers outward with a renewable resource (timber) is also a way to conserve environmentally sensitive inland lands elsewhere on the island.

But what if people, unlike some privileged residents of Nantucket, don’t have the resources to move even once? How applicable are the projects of this exceptionally wealthy city to communities with all coastal vulnerability and none of the resources? “I’m struggling with this,” Carr says. “We don’t want this to be about protecting the homes of the rich. Pocket Ecology’s bird-centric approach makes it clear, but Nantucket’s path to resilience is unlikely to be very similar to anywhere else. Reed says he hopes the What, otherwise the How? ‘Or’ What, of coastal resilience development in Nantucket will be transferable to less privileged communities, leaving open the question of who can use what has been learned about Nantucket.

The Envision Resilience Nantucket Challenge focuses on both architectural and ecological preservation. Photo by Maggie Janik.


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