by Suzanne Daub
Envision Nantucket in 10 years. If you’re optimistic, you’ll be imaging our island with sea levels a foot higher than they are now.
Now envision our island community 30 years from now, with sea levels more than 3 feet higher. What can we do? How do we live with rising seas?
Envision Resilience: Designs for Living with Rising Seas is an exhibit that does just that: it presents visions of possible futures on Nantucket. Presented by Re- Main Nantucket upstairs in the Thomas Macy Warehouse at 12 Straight Wharf, this exhibit is the culmination of months of study, discussion, collaboration, and design called The Envision Resilience Nantucket Challenge.
Five teams of graduate students from University of Florida College of Design, Construction and Planning, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, University of Miami School of Architecture, The School of Architecture at Northeastern University and Yale School of Architecture were tasked with creating visually impactful designs showing adaptations and innovations that will enable coastal communities to imagine what our future with sea level rise and climate impacts may look like. The Challenge focused on three areas of Nantucket around the harbor: Brant Point, Downtown, and Washington Street and The Creeks.
The teams of students worked for months with local and regional advisors who have expertise in conservation, public works, real estate, architecture, historic preservation, natural resources, art, marine biology, fisheries, civil engineering, science, and transportation. Virtual lectures were held each week during the spring 2021 semester—each of these lecture is posted for free public viewing at envisionresilience.org/speaker-series. Because of Covid restrictions, none of the students was able to make site visits to Nantucket during the semester. Instead, insights and narratives of Nantucket residents helped give context and inspiration. Teams were not required to follow island zoning or HDC regulations: the designs produced are meant to show “principles and pathways” rather than to propose solutions. They are meant to continue the conversation, not end it—to “illustrate that a future with more water doesn’t have to be anything less than beautiful,” as Cecil Barron Jensen, executive director of Re- Main Nantucket stated. She described one of the goals of The Challenge and the resulting exhibit as a way to “engage the Nantucket community to think expansively and creatively about coastal resiliency…we knew people would be afraid and intimidated, so we wanted to give people something resilient to envision when they think of Nantucket with sea level rise.”
Each of the five teams focused on the same three area of Nantucket, yet their designs and proposals are very different and include visions for housing, aquaculture, transforming streets and sidewalks, moats and seawalls, parks, lowland retreats, living shorelines, floating docks, an electric tram system, and more. The students did an impressive job creating proposals that retain sense of place, keeping the essence of Nantucket as they encourage residents to learn to live with water.
“The variety of projects impressed me. We live it: we know what it’s like on Washington Street or Easy Street when it floods. A part of me wanted them to just give us the solutions, but they gave us much more,” Jensen commented.
“We were blown away by the work done: we are inspired!” added Claire Martin, project manager at ReMain Nantucket who guided the Envision project. “The students had a visionary outlook of what our future could be. They really thought outside the box about how we can learn to live with water and possibly benefit from it.”
Visitors to Envision Resilience: Designs for Living with Rising Seas may want to see the exhibit more than once to absorb all the information presented. The exhibit is free and open daily from 10 am to 5pm through mid December. Additional events are being planned in conjunction with other island organizations concerned with climate change and sea level rise. On September 9 and 10, Nantucket Preservation Trust is hosting a two-day virtual event Rescuing History: Nantucket in Response to Rising Seas. Later in September, the Nantucket Conservation Foundation is offering Climate Change Awareness Walks, and ReMain has announced a morning roundtable discussion on September 27.
“When we first envisioned this project, we saw it as an interactive challenge with our community. To measure change, we conducted a baseline study in January 2021. We will run a second survey in January 2022 to measure the change in attitudes among the Nantucket community, under the notion that it will have been the work of many organizations and initiatives impacting attitudes,” Martin explained. “By presenting forward thinking images of a Nantucket future with more water, we wanted to impact people’s way of thinking. What will you do to make a difference? How will you reduce your impact on this beautiful, pristine environment? Can you imagine ways to be more innovative with your landscape and house designs? Anecdotally, we achieve this goal each time a community member comes through our exhibition…Since our July 2 opening, we’ve had more than 1,000 guests through the exhibition.”
This impressive exhibit at 12 Straight Wharf that resulted from a challenge now gives rise to the next challenge— as Jensen asked during the public presentation in June: “What are YOU going to do to be more adaptive in the face of sea level rise?”
“In spite of the urgency, it [adaptation] cannot happen all at once: it’s not one big fix and then we all go home happy. It’s a new way of living and thinking that will be with our children for a long time to come.” — Alan Plattus, Director, Yale Urban Design Workshop and Professor of Architecture and Urbanism speaking at the presentation of Envision Resilience: Designs for Living with Rising Seas.