Preservation in a Changing Climate: Adaptation to Sea Level Rise in Historic Coastal Cities, A Case Study of Salem, MA

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In this new era of climate change, human civilization faces unprecedented challenges in adapting to its impacts, one of which is sea level rise. Rising seas have profound and long-term repercussions in coastal regions, particularly in the U.S. along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. In the past decade, Hurricane Sandy and other major storm events have had disastrous effects in low-lying coastal regions. This thesis investigates the existing preservation planning framework at the federal, state, and local levels to determine policy and program actions that aid the integration of adaptation planning strategies in preservation legislation. With a focus on the historic cities that face severe physical, economic, and political implications of sea level rise and related coastal hazards, the City of Salem, Massachusetts, is examined to review ongoing adaptation efforts on designated sites and their approaches to preserving the significance, setting, and integrity of the historic resources. The research methodology combines qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis. A comprehensive literature review lays the theoretical groundwork, drawing insights from journals, reports, case studies, and policy documents. It further analyzes the current practices in adaptation planning of historic resources to identify the opportunities and challenges faced in preservation due to adaptation efforts. Salem's current policy, planning, and legislative framework are reviewed in detail, incorporating site visits, stakeholder interviews, and GIS Mapping. The study, thus, argues the need to establish adaptation planning as a preservation priority rather than the reverse and concludes with recommendations for policy and operation strategies for the adaptation of historic resources in this community that have broader applicability in local governments.

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206 pages


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Adaptation Planning; Climate Change; Cultural Resources; Historic Preservation Planning; Salem Massachusetts; Sea Level Rise


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Tomlan, Michael

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Chusid, Jeffrey

Degree Discipline

City and Regional Planning

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M.A., City and Regional Planning

Degree Level

Master of Arts

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dissertation or thesis

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