Stop Building On The Coast

On fleeing or defending areas vulnerable to rising seas

Coby Lefkowitz
15 min readMay 6, 2021


Flooding in Miami after Tropical Storm Eta. Source: Miami Herald

The Ocean is coming. Whether we like it or not, the seas are rising. Slowly, but ever so surely, it will swallow entire places and inundate others. It’s up to us how we choose to respond to this existential threat for hundreds of millions globally, and tens of millions domestically. Not responding is not an option.

There are two schools of thought with respect to dealing with sea level rise in the built environment: the first, fortify our existing communities to create defensible places. The second, shift our resources and attention away from the coasts to prepare for life inland.

This is not a binary choice. We must pursue both of these strategies, but with one major asterisk: *we should not build new development in communities severely threatened by sea level rise*

I can already hear the typing of keyboards, set to the theme of Jaws.

This will exacerbate inequality by limiting housing in areas that desperately need it, and will create a stratified society where the wealthy can afford beach homes and condos while the impoverished are relegated to the hinterlands.

How dare you tell communities what they can or can’t build. People should be able to build whatever they want, wherever they want.

This will destroy property values and is a communist takeover of our land.

If you’ll allow me, please, cut the music. This isn’t a NIMBY screed, nor am I advocating for taking anyone’s land. The ocean is already well on its way. This is a plea for common sense. You wouldn’t expect a sand castle to remain viable in the direct path of constant waves of water, would you? We can, and must, build more intensively elsewhere without ignoring the reality of the situation in coastal communities.

This is a complex issue with widespread implications on our entire society that must be tackled head on.

How Severe Is The Threat?

The science is unequivocal. While seas have only risen 9 inches since 1880, a third of that growth has come in the last 25 years. This growth is projected to accelerate further, thanks to two factors, driven by climate…



Coby Lefkowitz

Urbanist, Developer, Writer, & Optimist working to create more beautiful, sustainable, healthy, equitable and people-oriented places.