There’s plenty of talk about the need to retreat from the shoreline –Hurricane Sandy made this clear. In fact, Sarasota is already dealing with the “repair versus retreat” question on Siesta Key with Beach Road. Most literature on retreat focuses on structures located on shorelines, and frames the entire conversation around doomed property. But planning for climate change is not a lot-by-lot exercise, nor one to be viewed as all negative. For coastal towns like Sarasota, hope comes in the form of couple of questions:
- How can we maintain access as long as possible?
- How do we deal with the certainty of damaging storms, but uncertainty of timing?
- Can we actually prepare for climate change and boost economic activity at the same time?
For Sarasota, one of the best ways to maintain the economic activity at the beach while limiting exposure is to create “jumping off points” to provide access to the beaches on higher ground. These areas are close to the beach, but on terra that’s a bit more firma.
The photos above shows one of Sarasota’s greatest climate adaptation assets, located on the mainland at the foot of the north bridge to Siesta Key. The main feature is Southgate Mall. While not dead, it is losing its premier anchor next year (Saks) and is losing hope for an Apple store. The area is already mixed-use; rich in roadways, but not connections. It would be easy to classify this as a mall retrofit, but it is not: it’s an area retrofit given the numerous strip centers that radiate along the arterials. Even if there were no such thing as climate change, this would be a smart place to undertake world class redevelopment.
But climate change, sea level rise and storm surge are factors. While a typical mall retrofit might look at housing, retail, and transportation, retaining the economic vitality of the keys requires additional thoughts on how to also add the beach experience to the use mix. The image above illustrates a potential strawman for a jumping off point plan. The primary planning area geared to redevelopment is in red, with a second tier next to neighborhoods. This yellow area would not see new zoning, but instead would get special attention in the planning process to ensure livability. The green shaded areas are most vulnerable to surge and need their own round of retrofits.
This type of planning – servicing the beach away from the beach – will require some thinking on the nature of lodging and access.
- What kind of housing and hotel product? – Sarasota already represents about the widest gamut of lodging and housing imaginable: permanent, seasonal (snowbirds), sporadic (snowflakes) and tourist. Housing usually includes single family, townhouse, condo, apartment, assisted living, time shares, trailer parks, and hotels. But old definitions are changing. Sites like airbnb and Homeaway are blurring lines between ownership and hotel. Time shares are actually a key climate change real estate product, because owners still have other property even if storms wipe out buildings. For managed retreat, we need to rethink products in order to meet the three questions asked above. What would the real estate products and mix need to be? What needs to drive design and operations?
- Transportation – For managed retreat, transportation is as important as use mix and in fact the development needs to be planned around the transit and transportation system. In fact, we likely need new transportation “products” and mix. First, the circulatory system to the beaches forms a core. As long as we are planning transit to the beach, we may as well link it to downtown. We should also form a better hub for the local bus system (Southgate now qualifies as one of the suckiest transfer hubs in the transit kingdom). Walking will need to link the core to the immediate area, so sidewalks, shortcuts and crossings need special attention before buildings are planned. Finally, car hire completes the picture with traditional rentals, but also car shares like car2go and Zipcar. Tourists could still rent minivans and whatnot, but imagine the vacation savings if you can rent a car on the spot only as long as you need it. Young renters would not need to fork out cash for cars. Snowbirds could leave the car up north. This idea would help limit congestion for cities that need to manage current demand while looking ahead.
- New Zoning - I would invent new zoning: R-H-Tr: Residential-Hotel- Transportation. Just as developers need to install stormwater and HVAC, car share would be part of a building’s utilities (one they can share with other buildings in an area plan).
Note: Sarasota is developing a Post-Disaster Redevelopment Plan(or PDRP). Get used to this lingo.