Before the Flood, D.C.

How will the city change in response to the climate crisis?

Update: This project ran from 2019 to 2021 and has now concluded. Many thanks to the Humanities Truck program for its generous support. My work on the history of DC’s streams continues in other formats.

map of flood risk areas

Areas of flood risk in D.C. In purple: zones within 1% and 0.2% chance annual flood hazard, from FEMA FIRM panels for 2016. Pink: areas at risk from storm surge, from NOAA SLOSH model 2014 and USACE 2016.

The climate crisis will make the next century difficult and costly, but if we take immediate action, we can still blunt the worst effects. DC will need to adapt. We can look to the city’s history of change, reflect on our experiences today, and plan for the future.

photo of marsh

Marshy ground in front of the Lincoln Memorial, 1917. / National Photo Company collection via Library of Congress

This project focuses on public space, transportation systems, and the region’s relationship with its rivers. All of these will change. This isn’t the usual government-agency public engagement project: with rising seas and a changing climate, there is no no-build option. We’ll use American University’s Humanities Truck as a participatory, mobile design workshop, offering you tools to visualize change in the past and the future, share what you know about the city’s built environment, and explore future possibilities.

Visit us at Navy Yard, September 27th!

Navy Yard vicnity (Monday, September 27, 2021):
We’ll be near Navy Yard from 3:30 p.m. through 6:30 p.m, with maps, historic photos, and hands-on mapping projects. Check Twitter (@imagineterrain) for the exact location once we’ve parked.

The Humanities Truck

photo of truck

A photograph of the truck, which is a project of American University.


Want to keep up with this project and chances to visit the truck as it moves around the area? (You’ll also get notes about tours, workshops, and occasional thoughts about design and landscape history.) Sign up for the newsletter: