Stakeholder Assessment of Equity-Centered Coastal Adaptation: Insights from Norfolk, Virginia's Climate Resilience Efforts

Author: ORCID icon
Michel, Valerie, Systems Engineering - School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Louis, Garrick, Systems and Information Engineering / Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Scherer, William, Systems and Information Engineering, University of Virginia
Porter, Michael, Systems and Information Engineering / Data Science, University of Virginia
Shafiee-Jood, Majid, Civil and Environmental Engineering / Systems and Information Engineering, University of Virginia
Berne, Rosalyn, Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

The looming threat of climate change and the rapid urbanization of coastal communities present a growing challenge for policymakers and community leaders. As sea levels rise and tides become more damaging, creative, and innovative solutions are necessary to maintain the vital functions of our coastal cities. However, the focus on creating resilient coastlines can overshadow the social equity impacts of our actions. The most vulnerable populations in these communities are likely to bear the heaviest burden of coastal climate risk management policies and programs.

This research delves into the wicked problem of coastal climate change adaptation by examining the interactions among stakeholders and policies, with a particular focus on incorporating social equity into the planning process. Norfolk, Virginia, with its diverse population and commitment to community protection, serves as the case study. The study offers a framework for transforming qualitative assessments into quantitative influence and dependence matrices, which explore the relationships among multilevel governance stakeholders and policies.

Through a series of semi-structured interviews with over forty influential stakeholders in Norfolk's coastal climate adaptation policymaking, this research elucidates the intricate network of people, programs, and policies involved in coastal climate risk management. The research reveals inconsistent attempts from stakeholders to integrate social equity into coastal adaptation planning and analyzes the variation of how social equity issues vary across different coastal climate risks and stakeholder perceptions of solutions to address them.

Stakeholders identified challenges in measuring social equity, noting that federal and state-developed tools often lack consideration for local sociocultural norms. This research assesses the strengths and weaknesses of aggregated social equity indices and their applicability in planning. Using key components essential for quality index development, a scorecard is designed to evaluate and compare social equity indices. By deconstructing indicators and mapping them with specific coastal climate adaptation planning scenarios such as managed retreat and green infrastructure projects, and incorporating stakeholder-informed local knowledge, the study identifies how adaptation solutions can potentially exacerbate existing social equity issues.

It is essential to engage stakeholders and community members in the assessment process to ensure that their concerns and needs are incorporated into all stages of the decision-making process. It further demonstrates the importance of considering the interactions among stakeholders and policies, as well as the social inequities that can arise in policy making and program implementation. By doing so, policymakers and researchers can use the results of this study to develop more effective and equitable coastal climate change adaptation strategies that address the challenges faced by coastal communities around the world.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Social Equity, Coastal Climate Risk, Stakeholder Analysis, Adaptation Policy, Urban Heat, Resilience Planning
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