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Neighborhoods of the future: Students design solutions for communities prone to flooding

June 12, 2019

In the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, which deals with one of the highest rates of sea level rise along the East Coast, residents worry constantly about recurrent flooding — especially after heavy storms or during high tide.

Ashley Montgomery is an architecture student and a Virginia Sea Grant Future Resilience Leader. She is one of the leaders of the Coastal Community Design Collaborative, a group of student architects, engineers, and marine biologists that develop innovative designs to help Virginia’s Hampton Roads neighborhoods deal with flooding.

Ashley Montgomery is working to change that. An architecture student at Hampton University and the inaugural Future Resilience Leader with Virginia Sea Grantoffsite link, Montgomery is a student leader in the Coastal Community Design Collaborative (CCDC). Virginia Sea Grant’s Future Resilience Leader Award goes to a graduate student at Hampton University in a resilience-related field — in Montgomery’s case, a concentration in adaptation to sea level rise. 

The Future Resilience Leader Award allowed Montgomery to work with the program’s faculty leaders to further develop the CCDC program. This group of student architects, engineers, and marine biologists works across disciplines to develop innovative designs that help Hampton Roads neighborhoods deal with flooding. During the 2017-18 school year, the CCDC partnered with the neighborhood of Huntersville to brainstorm new solutions for recurrent flooding.

Ashley Montgomery, an architecture student and a Virginia Sea Grant Future Resilience Leader, works on plans to help Virginia’s Hampton Roads neighborhoods deal with flooding.
Ashley Montgomery, an architecture student and a Virginia Sea Grant Future Resilience Leader, works on plans to help Virginia’s Hampton Roads neighborhoods deal with flooding. (Aileen Devlin/Virginia Sea Grant)

The residents involved in the project provided the collaborative with information about where flooding typically happens within their neighborhood — information not usually available at that fine of a scale — and brought up other planning-related concerns. The interdisciplinary CCDC team members then used their complementary skill sets to develop ways to address these issues. 

"We believe firmly that no one has all the answers, so we spend a lot of time relying on our friends with knowledge in one area or another,” says Mason Andrews, an associate professor of architecture at Hampton University and faculty co-leader of the CCDC. “The more voices [that] get heard, the better the results."

For Huntersville, the result was a suite of proposed solutions, each one tailored to a specific location and its needs. “We developed different innovations for handling water storage within each and every block,” says Montgomery. 

In one area, the team created a plan to convert vacant lots into greenways that could absorb floodwater. In another, they developed the blueprints for an urban farm building that collects rainwater to irrigate the crops it houses, which in turn provide the neighborhood with fresh produce. In an area where residents expressed concern about high-speed traffic, the CCDC worked that problem into their flood adaptation design. 

“We developed a really nifty idea of an inverse speed bump,” Montgomery explains. “Instead of going over, it goes under, so it can store water at the same time that it helps to slow down traffic.”

Huntersville is the fifth neighborhood the CCDC has worked with since the collaborative’s inception in 2012. Even though not all proposed designs have been constructed, the collaborative sparks out-of-the-box ideas that might not otherwise come up in discussions with city officials. With support from Virginia Sea Grant, CCDC students and professionals work alongside coastal communities to increase resilience to flooding.
 


This story was originally published in the Fiscal Year 2018 NOAA Education Accomplishments Report.