Science & Society 6: The Future of Coastal Cities

So many forces collide around coastal cities—ocean and climate, ecosystems and infrastructure, and millions of people. Dramatic events like hurricanes and incremental events like sea-level rise have demonstrated how tenuous things already are, and what more may come as climate change intensifies.

Our safety, economies, and cultures require we live better at this changing urban-ocean interface. This is not a “coastal elite” issue. One in five Americans lives in a coastal city, 16% of urbanites living in poverty, and nearly 60% are people of color (compared to a national average of around 37%). Deterioration of U.S. coastal cities will have cascading effects across the country due to the size and scale of our coastal economy, which supports nearly 60 million jobs and comprises 46% of the GDP.

Put simply, coastal cities are unprepared for the impacts of the climate crisis and the stakes are high—but the future is not yet written. Design, technology, collectivism, and nature itself offer a wealth of possibilities. City governments and communities can charge ahead with solutions.

For a conversation grappling with how we might envision and achieve a thriving future for coastal cities and all who call them home, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson hosts landscape architect Kate Orff and architect and design justice pioneer Bryan Lee for Science and Society: The Future of Coastal Cities.

Kate Orff

Kate Orff is a landscape architect focusing on the global challenges of climate change and social and environmental justice. She is the founder and principal of SCAPE, a design-driven landscape architecture and urban design studio based in New York and New Orleans. She also is the Director of the Urban Design Program, Co-Director of the Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes, and Professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Orff has received numerous awards including the MacArthur Fellowship in 2017 and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Council of Fellows in 2019. She currently sits on the Commission on Accelerating Climate Action for the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Bryan Lee

Bryan Lee is a national Design Justice Advocate with over a decade of experience in the field of architecture. He is the founding organizer of the Design Justice Platform and organized the Design As Protest National Day of Action. Bryan has led two award-winning architecture and design programs for high school students through the Arts Council of New Orleans and the National Organization of Minority Architects. He is the Design Principal at Colloqate and works to give other people and practices the tools to pursue Design Justice themselves.

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist, policy expert, writer, and Brooklyn native. She is co-founder of the non-profit think tank Urban Ocean Lab, co-editor of the bestselling climate anthology All We Can Save, and co-creator of the podcast How to Save a Planet.

This event is supported by Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science.