Buyouts: Theorizing Exit and Existence in the Path to Recovery

Authors: Jared Enriquez*, Cornell University
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Land Use
Keywords: Buyouts, Recovery, Climate Adaptation, Unbuilding, Retreat, Climate Displacement
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Council Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Disaster events present a window of opportunity to enact progressive climate policies, but rarely do projects that couple hazard mitigation with climate adaptation address drivers of social inequality. Flood buyouts, property acquisitions in which flood-prone structures relocate onto higher ground and vacated property “returns to nature,” present an analytical frame in which one can examine how the planning process negotiates the tensions between equity and adaptation. This paper utilizes theories from geography and political ecology to address two questions: First, how do we plan for an equitable recovery and right to exit in spaces undergoing competing adaptation processes? Second, does metropolitan-led climate governance for retreat enable the reduction of social inequality? The case of New York City is used to explain how scale influences the process of “unbuilding” as a municipal project of climate adaptation. Flood buyouts accommodate both a residential right to exit (unbuilding) and community recovery (traditionally enacted through rebuilding), but the planning process traditionally privileges one over the other, based on perverse incentives and value conflicts arising from policy design and the contested nature of community recovery. This paper concludes with suggestions for institutional arrangements for adaptation coalitions that could build more inclusive flood resilient landscapes.

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