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Norfolk Neighborhood Gets a Boost from Virginia Sea Grant and HUD

Norfolk Neighborhood Gets a Boost from Virginia Sea Grant and HUD


By Robin Garcia, National Sea Grant Office

The Norfolk, Virginia neighborhood of Chesterfield Heights will benefit from a $120 million grant for the implementation of resiliency designs awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This award is due to initial support by Virginia Sea Grant.

Chesterfield Heights is on the National Register of Historic Places, with homes dating back to the 1920s. The area has experienced a recorded 14-inch rise in sea level since the 1930s, now placing many of the homes within the tidal range and regular flooding episodes. In 2014, no historic neighborhood like Chesterfield Heights had been evaluated for adaptation and resiliency needs. 

Students working on resiliency designs for Chesterfield Heights. Image: Old Dominion University.

So in 2014, Virginia Sea Grant provided nearly $50,000 to Wetlands Watch, a statewide nonprofit organization that focuses on wetland conservation, for the development of a resilience adaptation plan for Chesterfield Heights. Executive Director Skip Stiles turned to students from the Architecture Department at Hampton University and the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Old Dominion University (ODU) for initial research and designs as part of the Tidewater Rising Resiliency Design Challenge. To further support the students, Wetlands Watch reached out to consultants from the Hampton Roads Green Building Council and around 35 environmental engineers and architects. The City of Norfolk, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science Center for Coastal Resource Management, Virginia Coastal Policy Center at William & Mary, and the American Association of Architects also provided assistance.

It took the entire 2014-2015 academic year for the architecture and engineering students to gather the necessary information and develop a plan. The process involved collecting mapping data, speaking with residents, and surveying the neighborhood in person while keeping in mind the historic integrity of the homes. Developed resiliency designs include basement cisterns, above ground cisterns that can support plants, bioretention gardens, permeable pavement, and a living shoreline. At the end of the project, the students presented their work to public audiences, including senior city staff. 

Students presenting their work at the end of the Tidewater Rising Resiliency Design Challenge. Image: Janet Krenn, Virginia Sea Grant.

The senior city staff were planning a meeting on adaptation and resiliency needs, and were so impressed by the student presentations that they added Chesterfield Heights to the agenda. Many students, faculty, and advisory group members from the Tidewater Rising Resiliency Design Challenge were also invited to participate in the meeting. The Chesterfield Heights designs were incorporated into the Ohio Creek watershed designs. the Hampton Roads region, which includes Ohio Creek, then prepared a grant proposal for HUD’s National Disaster Resilience Design Competition.

Most of the $120 million awarded by HUD was specifically provided to implement the designs for the Ohio Creek watershed, one year after the Tidewater Rising Resiliency Design Challenge began. Additionally, Norfolk’s Clean City Celebration presented Wetlands Watch with an award of excellence In September 2014 for the project.

See below for Virginia Sea Grant's six-part series on the work in Chesterfield Heights. 

Norfolk Neighborhood Makes History (Again) with Resiliency Design Plan

Adapting a Historic Neighborhood for Future Sea Levels

Hampton University Students Design Sea-Level Updates for Historic Neighborhood

ODU Engineering Students Tackle Sea-Level Adaptations for a Historic Neighborhood

Professionals and Students Learn and Work Together on Emerging Field of Coastal Adaptation

Professors Cross University Lines to Adapt Community to Sea Level Rise

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