Too often, the neighborhoods that face the highest risk of river and coastal flooding are lower-income communities where the residents cannot afford flood insurance or invest in wholesale property renovation.
Nature can protect our cities
When I visited China earlier this year to learn more about The Nature Conservancy's conservation efforts there, I was excited to hear of the new Sponge Cities initiative, a governmental effort to use natural areas, from parks to green roofs, to address water shortages and flooding.
In Miami, The Nature Conservancy is working alongside city leaders and an engineering firm to develop new strategies for employing nature to help protect people from rising seas. They combine traditional “gray infrastructure” with “green infrastructure”—natural systems that can absorb rainwater, mitigate coastal flooding and reduce the impact of storms by providing a wave barrier.
Mangrove forests, coral reefs, seagrass beds, salt marshes, oysters—all of these are natural systems that belong in our coastal communities, and all can help reduce the effects of rising seas and storm surges on coastal communities. We hope to replicate the Miami model in cities around the world.
Inland, undeveloped floodplains along rivers, urban forests, and even well-designed parks can absorb and filter floodwaters, making cities safer and protecting water quality.
For instance, a healthy coral reef can reduce a wave’s energy by 97 percent before it hits the shore, and just 100 meters of mangrove trees can reduce wave height by 66 percent. These measures also offer co-benefits to communities that traditional “gray infrastructure” solutions cannot. These include improved water quality, fish production and eco-tourism opportunities.
Together, we can answer the challenge of rising waters by building sustainable neighborhoods from Miami to Shanghai—communities that not only integrate nature to mitigate flooding but also provide natural areas for people.