AbstractShoreline communities are unprepared for the increasing effects of sea level rise hazards on the built environment. As a result, Atlantic Coast historic properties reflecting cultural heritage face degradation or destruction. Numerous scientific studies project that sea level rise will likely inundate shorelines, increase the frequency of flood events, and augment wave damage from severe storms. These natural occurrences worsened by sea level rise could diminish a community’s identity and quality of life, often represented by National Register historic districts. To minimize the threat, strategies to adapt to sea level rise can offer protection for communities and their irreplaceable historic resources. To determine a course of action, my thesis question is: How can hard, soft, and non-structural adaptation methods be applied to protect the cultural heritage of National Register historic districts from the impacts of sea level rise? English Heritage, the Mississippi Development Authority, and the 1000 Friends of Florida provide helpful insights into methods used to protect historic resources from flooding, storm surge, and erosion—the effects of sea level rise. Additionally, the case study cities of St. Augustine, Florida; Elizabeth City, North Carolina; and Alexandria, Virginia, furnish examples of National Register historic district vulnerability to sea level rise and of adaptation methods addressing current natural hazards. My research findings indicate that adaptation methods can protect historic properties, but may also impact their historic integrity. I discover that the historic preservation community is largely uninvolved in the adaptation planning process. Without an advocate, historic properties on low-lying shorelines face an uncertain future by the year 2100 and beyond. My findings and recommendations include the importance of adaptation planning at the local level and the urgent need for preemptive adaptation implementation. To ease the political, social and economic obstacles associated with adaptation planning, local decision-makers and stakeholders must be educated on sea level rise science. State legislative endorsements are also necessary for municipalities to successfully implement a broad range of adaption strategies. It is essential that state and the federal governments offer technical and financial support to localities as sea level rise intensifies. Most critically, the historic preservation community must campaign for historic property protection that will also preserve historic integrity. The country’s coastal heritage and identity are at stake.
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