Beach house and erosion

Rising seas and storm surge threaten many shoreline communities, but developers continue to build along the coast.

Linda Shi of Cornell University’s department of city and regional planning says, “Every time you hear about a big storm, whether that’s Houston or Sandy, people ask the question afterwards, ‘Why were we building in the first place? Why aren’t we getting out of those areas?'”

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One of the reasons is city finances.

“A lot of U.S. municipalities are very dependent on property taxes,” Shi says.

In her research, Shi has studied coastal communities in Massachusetts. There, she says, some municipalities generate as much as 70% of local revenue from property taxes.

She says to keep that source of revenue stable and growing, many cities and towns continue to develop in flood-prone areas. Some see few alternatives, especially small communities with few places to expand.

But as climate change continues, those decisions come with grave long-term risks, both to a city’s finances and to the lives of the people who live on the coast.

So Shi says it will require planning at the regional, state, and national level to help cities prepare for climate change and avoid building in harm’s way.

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Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.