What the Dutch can teach us about living with water.

Whenever a big storm comes along and wipes out a US city, the response is always the same: We need to build a wall to protect us. This was true after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, after Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, and after Hurricanes Matthew and Irma washed away homes in Florida and the mid-Atlantic coast.

In New Orleans, they raised the dikes; in New York City, there are plans for an enormous wall around Lower Manhattan; in Florida, walls are going up so fast that parts of the coast are starting to look like a military fortress. And in Miami, where sea level rise is already a clear and present danger, voters just passed a $400 million “Miami Forever” bond, a portion of which will fund sea walls to help protect the city.

But walls and barriers are problematic in a number of ways. For one thing, they sever the land from the sea, destroying rich coastal ecosystems that are not only important for the health of the oceans but also provide important buffers from storm surge.

Walls and barriers also create a false sense of security; if and when they fail, the consequences can be catastrophic. Walls and barriers are also expensive, take a long time to build, and are not very adaptable to changing conditions.

It is perhaps true that with enough money and engineering knowhow, anything can be protected. It’s one thing, however, to spend $7 billion on a barrier around Lower Manhattan, the most valuable real estate on earth; it’s another to shell out similar funds to protect smaller neighborhoods. Walls and barriers are by their very nature unjust, dividing cities not just along class and racial lines but between Read More Here