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Water Is Coming

“Game of Floods” Gives Lesson in Planning for Sea-Level Rise

By Liam Farrell

Flood

Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez; classroom photo courtesy of MAPP

An aerial view shows extensive flooding from Hurricane Harvey in a residential area in Southeast Texas in August 2017. In lecturer Julie Gabrielli's ecological design thinking course (below), "Game of Floods," students plan for sea-level rise in a fictional coastal community.

There were no dragons, frozen zombies or thrones made out of swords. There was plenty of talk about walls, though.

A certain popular HBO series (whose final season premiered on Sunday) provided the inspiration for a recent UMD architecture class, “Game of Floods”—a team exercise where students plan for fictional sea-level rise in a fictional coastal community.

“It’s a very hands-on way to grapple with these issues,” said Julie Gabrielli, a lecturer who teaches the ecological design thinking course.

Earlier this month, students were given a map of “Resilience Harbor” that showed how varying amounts of sea-level rise and flooding would impact everything from the city’s hospital, school and wastewater treatment plant to its historic downtown village, estate homes and amphitheater. With a $35 million budget and a menu of potential fixes like seawalls, levees and even relocation, the students—each assigned to play a different resident or official—had to debate and prioritize protection.“Game of Floods” class

“People are always trying to solve problems in silos,” Gabrielli said. “You find out how interconnected everything is.”

And the students definitely did find that out.

“We need more bridges.”

“Without this (tourist) revenue, how are we going to rebuild?”

“Everything is important.”

“Save the pump!”

“Now you see why people like doing studies,” Gabrielli said. “They cost much less than building infrastructure.”

One team planned for two feet of sea-level rise by 2050, deciding on big-ticket items like $15 million flood gates to protect a lot of key harbor assets and $6 million to relocate the hospital. It didn’t dawn on them until afterward, however, that they had never even talked about the soon-to-be-underwater school.

Juhi Goel M.Arch. ’19 said the game revealed how design ideals have to be negotiated once applied to an actual city, e.g., “I guess we aren’t (restoring) the mangrove forest because we have people to save.”

While personally passionate about sustainable development, Goel had to play the city’s economic development director, whose primary concerns were maintaining businesses and tourism. She said it was a valuable lesson in seeing environmental challenges from a different perspective—the sort of thing that could help students avoid the municipal meeting equivalent of the Red Wedding.

“It forces you to become the other stakeholder,” she said. “Lots of times what’s missing from community meetings is empathy for the other.”

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