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Community-academic knowledge exchange and managed retreat planning

Authors: Osamu M Kumasaka*, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Nicholas B Allen, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Elise Harrington, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Janelle K Knox-Hayes, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Sarabrent McCoy, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Hazards and Vulnerability, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: managed retreat, community geography, traditional knowledge, indigenous tribe, partnership, climate change, Louisiana, Alaska
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


To date, efforts in the United States to plan or implement relocation in response to climate risks have failed to improve material conditions for participants, incorporate local knowledge, and keep communities intact. Both practitioners and academics need examples of how to do better. Mixed methodologies of community geography provide an opportunity for dialogue and knowledge-sharing to collaboratively diagnose the challenges of climate adaptation led by marginalized communities.

We advance a participative practice model for the co-creation of knowledge by coastal communities in partnership with scholars. This partnership model was initiated during a two-day workshop with members from the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe from Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, Yup’ik people from Newtok Village in Alaska, and scholars from MIT’s School of Architecture & Planning. Together, we investigated how indigenous communities in post-colonial states are often pushed to the margins—politically and geographically. As a consequence, these communities are confronting the leading edge of climate change and the attending political, societal, and geophysical challenges. In this article, we trace the narratives presented by members of both indigenous tribes and NGO partners. Their narratives illustrate the shortcomings of managed retreat planning practices past and present as perpetuating existing inequality. In response to this structured knowledge exchange, we identify potential roles for community-academic partnerships that aim to improve the equity of existing managed retreat models. We propose approaches for incorporating traditional knowledge into the pedagogy, discourse, and practice of academic planning programs.

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