Can Michigan be a climate haven? Duluth is already planning.


“Something’s not right,” he thought. So he started looking for a new home away from climate hazards. “Duluth seems like a more sustainable place to live long term.”

Larson said Duluth is uniquely positioned to attract newcomers like Corby in part because it has worked to cultivate social assets beyond just climate. Voters approved a sales tax increase to fund road maintenance, which he said would come in handy as storms worsen putting additional living room on the city’s hilly roads.

They also taxed themselves to fund parks and recreation development, an investment that has helped to make the city’s mountain biking trails a major attraction.

That ability and willingness to raise taxes to fund public infrastructure stands in stark contrast to some other cities in the region, where public officials have long lamented their inability to address the problems. civic due to lack of funding.

Shelter clubs, climate hazards

But while the city considers its role as a possible climate haven, some activists note that it must do more to address climate risks at home.

One of Duluth’s draws is the mild summers, the result of a breeze from the cold Lake Superior. This phenomenon has earned the northern city of Minnesota, located along a riverbank on the west side of the lake, a reputation as “the air-conditioned city.”

But as I was talking to Jordan van der Hagen about the city’s future, we were sweating on a muggy May afternoon.

“Usually we’re still going to have snow,” said van der Hagen, founder of a group called the Duluth Waterfront Collective, a group that sees the highway that passes through the city center as a barrier to climate preparedness.

Winters in the Great Lakes northwest are stronger and shorter, leading to earlier melts and thinner ice cover in the Great Lakes.

Van der Hagen worries that, amid all the hype about climate assets, the region will fail to see the threats it faces locally. The city needs to expand the paved infrastructure that heats cities as well as lanes that support vehicles that use fossil fuel, he said, while investing in green space to offer shade cooling in warmer tags. -init.

Other advocates have expressed concern that failure to carefully plan for population growth could exacerbate existing inequalities in the city. Think of places like the vacation towns of Northern Michigan, where outside money has pushed up housing costs, leaving low- and middle-wage workers homeless.

Home sale prices in Duluth climbed between 10 and 15 percent over the past year amid a nationwide COVID-19 home buying boom. The city’s hot real estate market has begun to squeeze those lower down the economic ladder, said Shaina Nickila, president of the Lake Superior Area Realtors board of directors.

Nickila worries about this trend going into hyper-drive if climate change predictions prove true, and Duluth hasn’t taken major steps by then to modernize and expand its aging housing stock.

“I’m thinking about my kids, and will they be able to have a house if this continues?” Said Nickila.

About how the city and other Great Lakes hubs can capture the demand so long -time residents won’t be priced while newcomers buy homes? “New construction, new construction, new construction,” Nickila said.

LeAnn Littlewolf, a senior program official at the local Northland Foundation, said the city must be careful to ensure housing is included for those at the lowest income end of the spectrum. In Duluth and across the country, that’s disproportionate to Native Americans and people of color.

When the American Indian Community Housing Organization opened a 29-unit low-income housing development in the former YWCA building in downtown Duluth, more than 400 people applied for a place.

The mismatch between home needs and availability has consequences, Littlewolf said: “More than ever, we have people living outside.”

He worries about late climate migrants not being moved by choice, but out of desperation.

“I understand why people want to move to safety,” Littlewolf said. “So what would it look like if our community lacked affordable places for our current community?… We’ll know how we can help each other.”

A plea for a national approach

Part of the difficulty in planning for the coming climate change, Keenan, the Tulane professor, said is that while researchers widely agree it will come, it’s hard to predict when migrants will start migrating in large numbers, and how large those numbers are.

The first wave of migrants were not the fleeing devastation, he said. These are people like Ben Corby, who have the money and the means to move by choice. Climate can be one of many deciding factors.

“Nobody gets up in the morning and goes‘ you know what, climate change, I’m not here, ’” he said. “It’s just one variable of prevention, apart from availability, accessibility, education, housing costs, homeowners insurance, access to good quality health care …”

Currently, the leaders of the nation’s population growth are in areas full of climate risks: Cities in Texas, Arizona, Utah and Florida, among others. This makes it difficult for Great Lakes cities – many of which have struggled to migrate for decades – to plan for growth that may seem unlikely in the immediate future.

Too often, planning experts say, cities struggle to plan for known, unpredictable future events, such as the expiration date of a major component of public infrastructure. Finding the money, will and planning capacity to prepare for an evolving and likely more costly climate crisis is more difficult.

Missy Stults, who heads the Ann Arbor maintenance office, encountered that problem when city leaders began working out the needs for a future water treatment plant. They want to build it to withstand a wet future, and one with more residents as migrants move to the climate.

“The problem we face is, no one is doing demographic modeling,” Stults said. And if municipalities build new infrastructure without a good estimate of future migration, “you’ll just spend hundreds of millions of dollars, potentially, on infrastructures that won’t serve you.”

Keenan said that’s where the federal government should step in to help with planning and funding. Some have the same advocate for targeting federal infrastructure funds towards parts of the country that are expected to best cope with the climate crisis so that they can prepare their infrastructure for the coming transition.

Private funders are also starting to notice: Earlier this year, a coalition of Great Lakes foundations hosted a webinar focused on moving to the region, and how they can target their philanthropy to help prepare for the coming wave.

Dealing with risks

But a haven even if they are, Duluth and the rest of the Great Lakes region will not be immune to the effects of climate change.

A record the storm in 2012 caused extensive damage, from sinkholes to bridge cracks, after more than 7 inches of rain fell on Duluth in 24 hours. Parts of the city’s lakewalk were destroyed during major storms in 2017 and 2018, requiring a million-dollar reconstruction just wrapped up this spring.

And near where the Saint Louis River meets Lake Superior, a narrow, heavily settled sandspit known as Park Point erupts into the lake, threatening homes.

Residents of the high -rise neighborhood managed to convince U.S. Army Corps engineers to “redo” the beach with dredged materials this year, but without continued attention the neighborhood would eventually disappear.

“People have lost 10-12-15 feet of their yards,” said Hamilton Smith, a Park Point resident who heads the neighborhood’s high water and erosion committee. “I don’t know if there’s a permanent solution.”

Larson asked the Army Corps to study whether its navigation channel was contributing to the erosion, but he was realistic about the possibility of saving homes on the spit as storms fueled coastal erosion. is getting worse.

“Their neighborhood plan was we would just build a break wall for us,” Larson said. But A, that’s probably $ 75 to $ 150 million. And B, I honestly won’t work. “

The upshot: Even in America’s climate shelter region, the forces of climate change may be pushing some people into their homes, even if it draws newcomers.



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