Should cities retreat due to climate change?

Over the past few months, the world has endured floods, heatwaves, droughts, fires and many events due to climate change’s impacts. Some commentators state that these events have been part of living with ‘nature’ for decades and that we have to live with them. However, many are starting to ask, Is it time to retreat? Can communities continue to survive these ongoing extreme events?

Image Credit: Flickr Stephen Dann – Brisbane Flood 2022

The answers may not be up to communities. It may be up to governments to make these hard decisions as they start to weigh the costs of preparation, crisis management, emergency events and prevention to save communities. Some parts of the world have experienced multiple extreme events in a short period, such as four 1 in 100-year flood events in eighteen months in Eastern Australia. Some of these areas will no longer be able to be insured as insurance companies undertake risk assessments and determine they can no longer afford to insure flood-prone areas. Insurance companies may start to push developers and governments to take a more proactive approach to developing communities.

Governments are being requested to provide greater (financial and emergency)assistance more often due to increased extreme weather events. They, too, will have to start determining how long governments (local/regional/country) can afford to fund emergency assistance and compensation for residents.

As cities grew and land values increased, governments (due to developer and internal lobbying) started rezoning cheap land areas for housing and development to keep prices down and maintain a competitive edge with surrounding areas. The cheap land areas were often in flood zones on rivers and coasts. Inappropriate development also occurred along coastlines to increase land values (and taxes) associated with water views. However, this type of planning has now created vast areas of flood and fire-prone communities. It is also worth acknowledging that some towns and communities were makeshift due to industry (mining, fishing, freight, etc.) and developed over time when planning was ad-hoc.

Read the full article as first published on World Landscape Architecture