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Building Matters

Adaptation Communities

Proponents of New Urbanism articulate reasons to build homes and neighborhoods for resilience in the age of climate change

At Babcock Ranch, America’s first solar-powered town, developers celebrate technology and nature working together to create a connected community designed to thrive for generations. As proof of concept, a severe hurricane left the town unscathed. The development includes an 870-acre solar farm, operated by Florida Power and Light, that powers roughly 2000 homes. Photo courtesy Babcock Ranch.

Stories of death and destruction occupied the news in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, the Category 4 Atlantic hurricane that, earlier this year, wrought widespread damage across the Florida panhandle and South Carolina. Yet, one community fared better than all others, despite its location in the hurricane’s path.

In 2015, developer Syd Kitson, a former professional football player for the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, founded Babcock Ranch as a community of 2000 homes constructed for resilience. Located 12 miles northeast of Fort Myers, the community’s streets were engineered to flood so the houses would not. Buried power and Internet lines avoided wind damage, and the landscape helped control stormwater. The solar-powered community kept the lights on with its utility-scale array; and a supplemental solar-plus-storage system ensured power even when the grid went down.

Constructed under the strictest Florida building codes, the community survived relatively unscathed through a hurricane that destroyed neighboring towns. Babcock Ranch is a proof of concept for the adaptation community, a development trend that will likely sweep the country as the fact of global warming’s furious climate impacts becomes undeniable.

In 1985, another development trend came from the Florida panhandle. Seaside introduced the walkable community concept in response to automobile-driven sprawl. The architectural visionaries behind the ubiquitous trend toward walkable urbanism now champion a radical idea in adaptation communities. Since 2015, Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk—creators of Seaside, principals of DPZ CoDesign, and among the founders of New Urbanism—have addressed the building industry’s response to climate change by advocating for adaptation over mitigation.

Radically adaptable

On the drawing boards at DPZ, future neighborhoods and cities are envisioned. The planning and architectural studio designs for developers and municipalities aspiring to build infrastructure for long-term sustainability, resilience, and, increasingly, adaptability to the impacts of global warming;…

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  1. DavidDrake | | #1

    In other words, the privileged inhabitants of a developed nation, having more responsibility than most for the climate crisis, now propose to wall themselves off from its effects and let the rest of the world burn.

    1. Expert Member


      I don't get that take from this article. While the mood is a little melancholic, it's really just an acceptance of reality. Perhaps the worst thing that could be done is nothing, and yet the call to plan for the eventual change is maybe the first step that the general population is willing to accept.

      Small changes are better than no changes, and no changes is essentially denial.

  2. user-7513218 | | #3

    The article neither says to do nothing nor to shield yourself from the rest of the world. The proponents of adaptation say faces the facts, not as they should be, but as they are. And then suggest ways to survive. I feel privileged to work in a field that may help the next generation.

  3. nickdefabrizio | | #4

    As someone who is helping to build sustainable infrastructure in Central Africa, I admire these projects. Designing communities that are sustainable in the face of the challenges ahead is important. However, I don't think these folks fully comprehend the dislocation and political chaos that will ensue from the climate crises. I don't think that relatively well off people will be able to ride this out in bubble communities, whether they be urban, suburban or rural.

    The worst consequences of climate change may not be in those places and from the causes that appear obvious now. They are unlikely to be from the direct impacts of weather and storms; but from the societal breakdowns caused by enviornmental shifts and disclocated people. For instance, it is possible that frequent dangerous pandemics will be one of the most deadly consequences of the changing enviornment and these pandemics will precipitate a breakdown of our medical and healthcare systems. The American response to COVID has been abysmal, in part because of the weakened state of our health care and educational systems and the profound political malfunction in our society. And COVID is a relatively weak virus. Imagine a virus as virulent as measles, but as deadly as EBOLA. I don't see how communities like these will have the necessary resources to respond to this type of threat very well.

    A second threat will be posed by the vast inequality that will appear in our society as large numbers of previously middle class people are forced to abandon thier communities and become climate refugees. It is clear that neither private insurance nor government subsidies will be able to compensate most of these people well enough to sustain their standard of living. They will not react well to scattered communities that have fared well through careful planning.

    In the end, the only way we will survive the coming troubles is by reinforcing the social, political and cultural bonds of the nation as a whole. Buildings and community design will play a part, but not the most imprtant part.

  4. Expert Member

    Interesting article. Thanks.

    If we had listened to Duany, and adopted the principles of New Urbanism when he first proposed them 40 years ago, we might well not be in a position where he has had to adopt what you might term a darker version of them now.

  5. user-7513218 | | #6

    nickdefabrizio. Thank you for your comments. This is precisely what both Duany and Onaran say, although stating it as bluntly as you have makes it difficult to publish an article. On the other hand, the simplification of life and the retreat from technology will have a positive side, too. Especially in the more remote areas where society can regroup and move ahead.

  6. mr_reference_Hugh | | #7

    It is great to see more discussions about building with climate resilience in mind. I often hear that the best thing to do is to build something that will last because of the impact of building anything is so significant. It only makes sense to build a green building that is climate resilient or else it could all be wasted effort if it can't sustain the impacts of climate change. I hope to see more of this in the future, perhaps discussing the different elements in-depth to consider (like the electricity backup systems) and the options that exist.

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