Heading into the Wind: Climate Change and the Implications for Managing Our Cultural Landscape Legacy | Liz Sargent and Deborah Slaton
For many of us, the most easily envisioned effect of climate change will be a rise in sea levels that conjures visions of truncated coastlines, battered summer cottages, and half-submerged cities, such as New York and Miami. As we slowly accept the reality and certainty of climate change and associated sea level rise, weather disruptions, environmental upheaval, and other unanticipated impacts, the need to plan for and mitigate these effects looms large.1 At the leading edge of the struggle are properties in coastal areas. The specter of the rising sea and its anticipated impacts on our cultural heritage are of particular concern to preservationists. It has become increasingly apparent that current approaches to historic preservation will need to be adapted in order to continue to protect our cultural heritage with the same level of care that we expect today.
Interestingly, models for appropriate adaptive strategies may exist in past cultural responses to harsh and shifting environments, such as our coastal areas and barrier islands. Because historic coastal resources have been affected by changing environmental conditions for decades, and in some cases even centuries, these adaptations are key elements of their material and visual character and unique sense of place. One such historic coastal community that represents the unique type of heritage and sense of place that preservationists work to protect, and is also currently at risk due to sea level rise, is Portsmouth Village on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The particular responses and adaptations developed by the residents of Portsmouth Village to address a challenging and ever-changing environment can offer us clues today for possible future strategies devised to combat the threat of climate change.
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