Part 5: Bioregional Urbanist Design Principles

| June 25, 2020

Toward Resource Self-sufficiency – One Region at a Time

by Philip Norton Loheed

As president of Earthos Institute, I have helped to create Bioregional Urbanism, a process to encourage changes back to “One Planet Living.” This is the fifth of ten installments describing Bioregional Design principles.

The timeline for our hypothetical town reconfiguration will need to reflect the rate of sea level rise with immediate adaptation, with longer term morphology and intelligent planning for life cycle costs as the levels of risk evolve.

We can start a research project to look at the Boston Bioregion [map 1] coastal communities that will have various problems with rising sea levels. This can be looked at preliminarily using the NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer at: This visualizes ocean rise up to three meters, with various “scenarios” and with “high mapping confidence.”

The problems for towns will relate to how highlands exist in the total area, and to the underlying geology in each community. So our research will start to collect and compare the range of problems that may come up….

Cape Cod towns, like Barnstable [map 2] have about 800 feet of sand and gravel overlaid on bedrock far below the sea level. All fresh water sources might be lost to salt water intrusion as the rise continues. Even the terminal moraines having higher elevations will be dramatically re-arranged by marine and wind forces; whereas:

Midcoast Maine towns such as Westport Island have inclined metamorphic rock ridges separated by deep drowned valleys such as the Sheepscot River. Shores are steep, and highlands abundant, such that even a large rise of ocean level would have relatively little impact on available land. Existing fresh water usually comes from rock strata at high elevations as well as well below sea level. Soils pose constraints on construction for many uses.

In some cases, ocean hydrodynamics will reshape land dramatically, moving or eliminating barrier islands and marsh areas. In others, numerous biodiversity issues will be critical, whereas:

Ipswich, Massachusetts [map3] has very little high land, and much existing marshland over thinner glacial deposits. Its loss of land base may be extreme, as shown in bright blue (the remnant of Plum Island shows the existing shore as a white line).

A second sea level rise viewer at: provides a look at higher risk levels up to 30 meters (the maximum possible sea level rise is ±70 meters if all ice on land is melted or shed into the sea).

This 30 meter mid-level risk – possible this century if large scale ice loss in Greenland or Antarctica should occur – would flood an additional large amount of high-value land, indicated in orange and yellow [map 4]. This particular map system can also show social vulnerability, population, ethnicity, income, and landmarks in flooded areas.

Please consider a close look at the two map systems, with the detailed information they provide. You may zoom in to any particular area of interest to look at current issues, and future problems that will impact strategies for immediate, mid-term and long term solutions.

Humans have taken control of the sea level rise phenomenon, and Mother Nature is on the move for real… Denial by our current leadership is accelerating the time frame for serious and critical action.

Please tune in next month.

Philip Norton Loheed

Phillip Norton Loheed is a principal at Design Partnership Plus.

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Category: All, contributor, Green

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