Barn's burnt down
I can see the Moon.
~ Mizuta Masahide

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Is this a "thing" yet? #ClimateChange Relocation and #Localist Economic Development Specialist #placemaking #dreamjob #MSULawSM

It is totally possible that I may have missed something during the fog that is law school, but it seems that most discussions about the expected population displacements due to climate change focus on climate refugees from island nations and rapidly desiccating subsaharan nations. This makes sense of course because for many of the citizens of these nations the evacuation need is now, rather than in some more distant future.

Domestically, the discussion seems to gloss over the fact that if the projections are correct (See NASA's recent megadrought projections for the next 35 years), millions of American citizens will soon need to relocate from flooded coasts or drought-ridden communities, most likely to other locales within the United States. With Central California wells already running dry and the ferocity of recent hurricanes displacing hundreds of thousands of people (e.g. Katrina: 400k people and Sandy: 776k), the need to think about and plan for relocation is now.

At the same time, other communities in the country are rebounding from the Great Recession and are actively pursuing strategies for locally-owned and operated, sustainable economic development (See Cleveland, the BALLE case studies, Richmond, VA). This is particularly true for communities that are off the beaten path or are reinventing themselves as post-industrial locales.

So, why not combine the needs of climate change relocation with the needs of localist economic development? Put another way, where will all the amazing companies and organizations in, say, the San Francisco Bay Area go when the sea levels rise, the heat waves become chronic, the water runs out, and/or the Big One hits?

Proactive planning for relocation should be part of any climate-change threatened organization's or individual's emergency management plan and long-term projections. BUT the best relocation planning would take seriously the organization's or individual's role in becoming a community partner in placemaking in its future home.

Essentially a community development strategy of disaster avoidance and prosperity creation needs to be part of future planning. A proactive embrace of relocation as an opportunity rather than a chore can prove to be a very good decision for business, communities and for individuals' quality of life.

A Climate Change Relocation and Localist Economic Development Specialist would be part Hollywood location scout, part matchmaker, part community mediator, part designer, and part lawyer. She would help relocating businesses and individuals identify communities in more stable zones that are or could be excellent partners for the business' or individual's talents and goals. She would also work with communities hoping for an influx of good neighbors and good business by helping those communities complete a soul-searching SWOT analysis of their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Communities hoping to welcome new neighbors and businesses have to recognize that they can rarely control who those people and businesses will be (exceptions: formula business zoning and other zoning & building code strategies), and thus they need to be sure that they are ready to grow and learn with their new neighbors.

Certainly a specialist who is a skilled facilitative or transformative community mediator can help with these conversations. If she also has a design thinking sensibility she can help insure that the process is empathetic and responsive to both the migrants and the communities. And as a lawyer, she can facilitate the numerous transactions incumbent in relocating businesses and individuals (e.g. real estate transactions and syncing business and estate needs with the laws of the new state).

Admittedly, that's a lot to ask of one person, but then again, this is the era of the purple squirrel job description. Personally, I see this need to help individuals, businesses and communities plan for the effects of climate change as an argument for a multidisciplinary practice where relocation specialists, mediators, business-savvy service designers and lawyers work together to help communities, businesses and individuals prepare for and embrace the inevitability of change.

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