Mapping Detroit: Flooding risks and climate refuge potential

This is part of a series from the unofficial cartographer of Detroit, Alex B. Hill, a self-described “data nerd and anthropologist” who combines mapping, data, and analytics with storytelling and human experience. He is the founder of DETROITography and author of “Detroit in 50 Maps."
Detroit, with its potential to become a future climate refuge, stands as a promising destination for those seeking respite from the harsh conditions of the arid Western and flood-prone Southern and Eastern regions. However, like many cities in the Rust Belt, Detroit grapples with significant industrialization and a historical disregard for the ecological well-being of its coastline. Furthermore, it lags behind in vital infrastructure upgrades, including roads, pipelines, and electrical systems, a concern that must be addressed if it hopes to grow equitably in a changing climate.

The most pressing climate threat faced by the Great Lakes region is heavy rainfall, leading to the kind of destructive flooding seen over the past month. Detroit and its neighboring areas have already felt the impacts of inadequate drainage systems on expressways and the absence of green stormwater runoff infrastructure, coupled with an overabundance of impermeable parking lots.

These challenges are highlighted by data sourced from the First Street Foundation Flood Model, a national assessment tool that identifies flood risk at various locations. Notably, the data underscores the spatial variation of flood risk within Detroit, with Jefferson Chalmers and Southwest Detroit/Dearborn emerging as critical zones on the risk map.

To fully harness Detroit's potential as a climate haven, experts recommend recognizing and addressing the city's industrial legacy and ecological shortcomings, while urgently tackling the deficiencies in its infrastructure. By doing so, Detroit could better prepare itself to accommodate climate migrants seeking refuge from drought-stricken and flood-prone areas.
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Read more articles by Alex B. Hill.