Our Approach

In this lab we weave together the fields of urban ecology and environmental planning to investigate resilient systems. Our overarching questions are: how can we transform complex social-ecological systems to build future resilience? And how can we evaluate current progress and compare possible strategies? We use spatial analysis, plan content analysis and survey instruments to assess climate adaptation strategies at three different scales – regional, city, and site. We formulate our research to build a bridge between theory and planning practice.

We cluster our research into the following categories:

Decision Making

The decisions people, designers, landscape architects, planners and societies as a whole are critically important to how the landscape is sculpted and the potential to reduce future threats. Our work focuses on improving the way decisions are made by translating critical climate science into adaptation costs, visual tools and adaptation guidance.

In metropolitan regions made up of multiple independent jurisdictions, adaptation to increased coastal flooding due to sea level rise requires coordinated strategic planning informed by an understanding of the costs adaptation actions. We developed a flexible method for estimating physical adaptation costs along the San Francisco Bay shoreline. We categorized shoreline data, estimated the height of exceedance for sea level rise scenarios, and developed a set of unit costs for raising current infrastructure to meet future water levels. These datasets and detailed methods are available through UC Berkeley’s online data archive.

Using these cost estimates, we explored critical policies on infrastructure design. We found regulations requiring a specific infrastructure design height above the water level had a large impact on physical construction costs, increasing them by as much as 200%. Our results also show that the costs of raising existing walls represents 70% to 90% of the total regional costs. These findings suggesting that a shift to earthen terraces and levees will reduce adaptation costs significantly.

Sea level rise in planning

Using sea level rise science and future projections to make informed decision is complex and location specific. Understanding how current local decision makers are incorporating sea level rise science in planning can inform both the development of future projections and the design of coastal services. Our lab is currently working with an international team to launch a questionnaire to better understand specifics about the use of sea level rise at the local jurisdictional scale.

Assessing Sustainable Cities

Choosing to manage a city or community is a deeply sustainable manor is not easy. Proving the tools to make such chooses reduces the burden on individual managers and local decision makers.

Daniella Hirschfeld worked as a key architect of the original STAR Community Rating System (STAR). This rating system was the nation’s first comprehensive framework and certification program for evaluating local sustainability, encompassing economic, environmental, and social performance measures. Local leaders used the rating system’s evaluation measures to assess their current level of sustainability, set targets for moving ahead, and measure progress along the way.

In 2018 the START Rating System formally transitioned into the LEED for Cities and Communities program at USGBC. Daniella's studio class worked during the spring of 2020 to develop proposed revisions to the rating system. They focused on ecosystem health and the inclusion of ecosystem services in the rating system.

Jordan, with roughly 900 million m3 of renewable fresh water, is considered one of the ten most water deprived nations in the world. These water shortages, which are expected to be exacerbated by climate change, are considered to be a key impediment to the nation’s development. Currently the government plans to utilize the Disi aquifer, which can provide 90 million m3 of water for the next 100 years. Given the importance of this aquifer it is important to assess its quality.

We analyzed the Disi aquifer’s radium content and explored the implications from these findings. We collected 22 samples from the aquifer and compared them from 38 samples from the rest of Jordan. We used GIS mapping and spatial statistical to understand what water could be used as part of the nation’s water management plan.

Our research shows that the Disi aquifer is heavily contaminated with radium, containing on average 9 times the US – EPA limit of 0.185 Bq/L. Given these findings we conclude that the Disi aquifer is no longer a top choice water management strategy; however with proper care it can still be used. Read more here

Spatial Strategies

Addressing climate change and adapting to future changes requires spatial interventions and strategic thinking about possible trade-offs. Our work focuses on understanding where on the landscape climate change adaptation strategies can be physically implemented and what the implications of such interventions would mean.

Addressing Issues of Alignment and Re-alignment

In the world of mapping and planning, drawing the line is a critical step. ‘Where is the edge of the flood zone?’ ‘What neighborhoods are most vulnerable?’ Or, ‘Where should we place the floodwall?’ are just some of the questions faced by climate adaptation and hazard mitigation planners. However, when grappling with a slow-onset problem such as sea level rise, static single-purpose protection will not adequately solve this long-term threat. Instead, we need to shift our thinking and work toward a transformative path through different iterations of the future.

We worked with data from the San Francisco Estuarine Institute (SFEI) to developed a series of shoreline edges that can help to ensure the protection of habitat areas along with iterative retreat steps. Shoreline A is the most bayward and represents the current front edge of saltwater marsh habitat and walled protective structures. Shoreline B represents the boundary between saltwater habitat and freshwater habitat. Shoreline C, the most landward, represents the back edge of the freshwater habitat. In creating these delineations we can start to strategize ways to align and re-align our bay edge to future scenarios.

StormSmart Coasts Massachusetts

The threats from coastal hazards and climate change are well understood. The spatial questions of where and how to intervene and enact specific physical plans or policies is a significant challenge for local planners. Daniella worked to address this challenge from 2009 – 2011 as a NOAA Coastal Zone Management Fellowship with the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).

During those years she worked with local governments on a variety of interconnected pilot projects. In one project she was part of team that developed spatially explicit visual tools such as the one displayed on the left to help support a local incentive program. She also worked to develop a spatially relevant policy intervention.

Adaptive Capacity

Adaptive capacity is an often overlooked, and yet critical part of bolstering responses to the looming impacts of a changing climate. Our work focuses on both analyzing existing adaptive capacity of governance systems and on leveraging this understanding to support climate services.

The Regional Fingerprint: A New Evaluation Tool for Adaptive Capacity

We developed a flexible multi-criterion framework for evaluating regional adaptive capacity. This tool fills a critical gap in that there are no specific ways to measure, evaluate, and assess adaptive capacity from the perspective of a robust governance system. We used a six-step methodology based on Gupta et al. (2010) to create the framework.

The fundamental conclusion from this process is that a region’s adaptive capacity is based on having institutions that (1) have adopted actions into existing planning requirements; (2) have strong institutional capacity; (3) use high quality research to make informed decisions; (4) use an inclusive planning process that engages vulnerable communities; and (5) have the ability to collaborate at a regional scale.

California’s Adaptation Clearinghouse

We worked closely with several state agencies in California to help with the development of the database that forms the backbone of the Adaptation Clearinghouse. This critical climate service allows people to navigate a searchable database of adaptation and resilience resources. Hundreds of documents have been coded by climate impact, topic, and region allowing communities, businesses, and organizations to find the most relevant resources.