Students are helping Casco Bay communities plan for a warmer, wetter future

May 7 – Teams of science and design students from prestigious schools such as Harvard, Yale and Cornell are coming to the Casco Bay region this fall to help these coastal communities find ways to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The students – including a team from the University of Maine at Augusta – will participate in the Envision Resiliency Challenge, which began in Nantucket in 2021 and has also spent semesters in Narragansett Bay, RI, and New Bedford and Fairhaven, Massachusetts.

Students from the eight participating universities will be asked to explore and design new ways of living and working in Portland, South Portland and the Casco Bay Islands under warmer, wetter conditions alongside a rapidly warming and rapidly rising Gulf of Maine.

“Climate change is the defining issue of our time – but instead of fearing the future, this program asks us to reimagine the future we would like to see and then work towards it,” says Wendy Schmidt, founder of Remain Nantucket, which developed and is funding the challenge.

“If we work together and approach challenges with creativity, we can work towards a better future,” said Schmidt. The “university teams provide the ability to synthesize spatial and social histories, community input, and speculative futures that will become hopeful visions for Portland.”

The professors and teams of graduate and undergraduate students studying architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and environmental sciences come from the following universities: Buffalo, Cornell, Harvard, Maine at Augusta, Michigan, Toronto, Virginia and Yale.

The teams will spend the fall semester learning about the region’s challenges from municipal and community leaders, entrepreneurs, nonprofits and scientific organizations. They will base potential design solutions for climate adaptation on these findings.

The program will remain prominent this fall. Locals can expect to see future architects, urban planners and environmental scientists traveling the area’s storm-ravaged waterfront, increasing housing stock, leading community workshops and presenting their final designs at a public exhibition.

Since its launch, 22 teams of 346 students and students from 13 universities have participated in the program. The students worked with 70 community advisors from eight coastal communities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford, where the program spent fall 2023, said his community benefited from this creative and data-driven thinking about the most pressing climate and resilience challenges.

“The model of bringing design students together with key stakeholders to create adaptive solutions based on local knowledge and history is an asset to any city,” Mitchell said. “I am confident that the city of Portland will benefit from their participation, as will we.”

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