Theorizing the Resilient District: Design-Based Decision Making for Urban Coastal Climate Change Adaptation


Michael Wilson, Alan M. Berger, Richard J. Zeckhauser (KSG), Fadi Masoud, with Matthew Spremulli


Cities increasingly plan for and respond to catastrophes. To retrofit and rebuild, long time horizons are required for decision-making, design, and construction. Whereas most literature has focused on regional level planning, this paper argues urban districts can leverage design to formulate resilient strategies. These districts, however, depend upon matching economic tools with socio-political engagement at the appropriate spatial scale. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the design competition “Rebuild By Design” (HUD and Rockefeller Fdn), the Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism at MIT introduced a working concept of “resilient districts” for urban areas that are vulnerable to current coastal flooding and future climate impacts was introduced. This paper critiques subsequent districting efforts, from planning and economic perspectives, and outlines their central four tenets of protecting critical infrastructure, thickening regional soft systems, transferring density to less vulnerable areas, and encouraging landscape-based land uses. These theories are illustrated with case studies in the New Jersey Meadowlands and metropolitan Boston, Massachusetts.

Publication pending

-elements featured at Boston Public Library's Norman B. Leventhal Map Center exhibit: "Regions and Seasons: Mapping Climate through History," March 4 through August 27, 2017

-elements discussed in lecture at Boston Anthenaeum:

Using Format