How Cities Protect against Rising Sea Levels


The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns against the rising sea level and changing precipitation patterns, attributing them to climate change.

Coastal cities in particular are under threat of flooding due to these environmental changes.

Coastal cities in particular are under threat of flooding due to these environmental changes

In recent years, cities like Houston (which suffered through Hurricane Harvey), Beijing, and New Orleans have experienced first hand the dangers of flooding on the coast. Cities all over the world are engineering ways to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape and prevent flooding disasters. So how are coastal cities preparing to face these threats?


Countering The Threat

Surveys of the Charleston Harbor in South Carolina have indicated that the water level has been rising steadily since the 1920’s. This increase in water level demands preparedness on the part of the city for potential floods. Charleston has implemented changes in their infrastructure as a result of this demand. Charleston has specifically:

  • Converted many one-way streets to accommodate two-way traffic, allowing people to bypass flooded streets

  • Updated pump stations to prevent inundation

  • Elevated streets that are below the water level to reduce the risk of flooding in the streets

Flood and emergency management is not limited to just the coastal areas of the United States. These issues are prevalent worldwide, becoming a significant strain on governments to effectively prepare for and respond to.


China's Sponge Cities

China has experienced flooding issues in recent years. The 2012 flooding of Beijing put the issue of disastrous city flooding to the forefront of innovations in sustainability, and the country has developed “sponge cities” as a response. These sponge cities are developed near large urban centers to absorb rainwater and prevent flooding.


The city of Linglang, for instance, has implemented permeable pavements to allow water absorption in its soil and alleviate the devastation of high water levels in its neighbor Shanghai. The city also promotes green spaces, like wetlands, to further help water absorption. The goal of the Chinese government is to have these sponge cities reuse 70% of the rainwater they capture.

Sponge cities are developed near large urban centers to absorb rainwater and prevent flooding.

Other Ways Cities Combat Flooding

Venice is currently constructing its MOSE project; this engineering feat stretches across the city’s three lagoons and acts as a mobile floodgate to protect the city in the event of a high tide. Venice is slowly sinking due to natural subsistence and the rising sea levels will make the city’s flooding issue worse. The MOSE project will act as a barrier between the lagoon and the Adriatic Sea and, Venice hopes, a protection against flooding.


Near The Hague, the Scheveningen Boulevard Coastal Barrier protects The Hague and surrounding coastal villages from flooding. Located in the Netherlands, which is at or below sea level, the local municipalities invested in a 36-foot barrier that both protects against further flooding and acts as a popular tourist destination.

Bottom Line

Given the significant physical, emotional, and economic impact of flooding, the CDC has recommended steps for individuals who want to prepare themselves for flooding in their city. Rising sea levels are a threat to coastal cities in particular and the examples listed above are just some of the ways that whole communities are working to solve the problem. If you live in an area threatened by floods, look through the CDC guidelines on flood preparedness and what to do in the event of an emergency.

Subscribe to our latest insights and stay up to date with the world of social impact

Join our university branches

Join our high school branch