CoPe: Collaborative Research: EAGER: Impassable During High Water: Sea Level Rise, Commuting and Climate Gentrification

Project: Research project

Project Details


CoPe: Collaborative Research: EAGER: Impassable During High Water: Sea Level Rise, Commuting and Climate Gentrification CoPe: Collaborative Research: EAGER: Impassable During High Water: Sea Level Rise, Commuting and Climate Gentrification PROJECT SUMMARY Overview There is growing recognition that sea-level change will have severe equity impacts in coastal cities. Recent work has focused on residential areas vulnerable to increased flooding risk. Early results suggest that low-income and minority communities may suffer even when their neighborhoods are not in low-lying areas through increased property values and climate gentrification. As wealthy residents leave vulnerable areas, they may seek out neighborhoods with higher elevations, driving up rents and property values and displacing historical residents. Understanding these population dynamics is key to designing urban climate adaptation strategies that do not exacerbate existing inequities in income, health, and environmental outcomes. The current focus on residential flood risk in the literature misses a key component of human response to sea level change. People base their location decisions not only on conditions at home, but also where they work, and their expected commuting time. The proposed research project consists of five activities to create a methodology for predicting how road obstruction from sea level change may affect commuting, demographics, and the economic vitality of coastal communities. We will use Miami, FL as a proof of concept, with the potential for scaling up the method to other vulnerable regions in the U.S. The first activity involves analysis of tidal gauge and elevation data to establish how increased flooding over the last decade contributed to road inundation. The second combines this data with home and workplace location data and travel time algorithms to estimate the effect of inundation on commuting times. The third combines these results with socio-economic data to determine whether low income and minority populations have been disproportionately affected by flooding. While the previous activities can be characterized as descriptive, the fourth takes advantage of changes over time to establish a relationship between road obstruction and the spatial allocation of workers homes and destinations. Specifically, the project will address the question of climate gentrification by determining how adjustments in commuting times alter neighborhood demographic composition. It will also identify whether areas that are sources of employment (net importers of workers) are affected by flood risk; that is, are the constraints that flooding imposes on transportation associated with a decline in incoming commuters in primarily business/industrial districts. The fifth activity is more forward looking, projecting how increases in sea levels under the Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) are likely to affect different demographic groups under current and projected population levels. Intellectual Merit The approach developed in this project confronts the following limitations in disciplinary assessments of equity implications of sea level change. There is a growing literature evaluating the general impact of flood risk on housing values, only one study has begun to consider the impact of flood risk on commuting patterns. With respect to equity, although some studies have constructed vulnerability indexes as a function of income, none have sought to quantify the differential impact of flood risk on demographic groups differentiated by race or income. Our work addresses these gaps by providing the first estimates of the differential impact of sea level rise on low income and minority communities through the channel of impediments to employment access. Broader Impacts Identifying road segments, locales, and demographic groups vulnerable to sea level change will be of great value to coastal cities faced with developing long-range adaptation strategies. These tools will not only allow cities to understand how neighborhood demographic composition is being affected by flood risk, but also determine which business areas are likely to be impacted by impediments to commuters. The tools developed here can also be applied to other contexts such as the impact of flood risk to access to first responders and hospitals and updating population projections to account for flood risk. Although this project focuses on Miami, use of publicly available data and models ensures that the approach is easily replicable for other U.S. municipalities.
Effective start/end date10/1/199/30/21


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $249,892.00


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