Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences Washington DC Historic Map

Sea Level Rise in Cape May County

Updated 5.25.2010

Throughout the 2009 fall semester the junior studio researched and explored a complex and uncertain topic: The future of Cape May County’s landscapes under various scenarios of sea level rise. The issue was a large problem with uncertain future consequences. The site was Cape May County, New Jersey’s southernmost county and a popular getaway destination.

Fall 2009 was an exciting time to study coastal landscapes and sea level rise in Cape May County. Storms that battered the coasts emphasized vulnerabilities and showed how quickly our coastline can change. Students asked tough questions and creatively explored problems that will vex them for years to come. Over the course of the semester they became sophisticated users of geospatial technologies, learned about the physical and social landscapes of Cape May County, developed a stronger understanding of coastal issues, analyzed opportunities and constraints of the region, and explored highly varied responses. This web page is an attempt to give the visitor a brief glimpse into the processes, strategies, and site specific design attempts the students adopted.

DEP Contest Map

This project explored potential responses, particularly design interventions, which might at some future time address Cape May’s dynamic landscape. The Steinitz Model of Landscape Change was utilized as the framework for the project. The outlined processes and methods in this framework allowed the class to gather information and apply it accordingly in their group designs. The resulting project has thus been structured by first presenting the problem (INTRODUCTION), describing the study area of Cape May County (INVENTORY), conducting spatial analysis of the site (ANALYSIS), exploring 4 different design approaches and resulting interventions (DESIGN INTERVENTIONS) and considering larger patterns and lessons learned (CONCLUSION). This project is not intended to provide solutions, but rather to present a desperately needed form of experimentation.

One of the notable elements of the project was a comprehensive study of the current landscape of Cape May County. The result was an award winning poster portraying the many faceted region.

Two general questions were established through the Steinitz model; “how should the landscape be described” and “how does the landscape operate”. These inquiries address an objective layout for landscape assessment and data collection. The landscape information in its original form is dense and difficult to disseminate. To make it easier for comprehension, the project team organized the reporting of the information around four broad categories of information: “PEOPLE”, “LAND”, “WATER”, and “GOVERNMENT.” While these groupings may be imperfect, they provide a reasonable structure for organizing the material and guide the remainder of this chapter. The categories overlap and leave gaps, but together they reveal patterns and trends that tell much about this landscape.  



The completion of the inventory presented the facts and told the story needed to better attain the sense of place in Cape May County. The data gathered contained connections to be evaluated in the second phase of the Steinitz model. To fully understand the relationships between the varying divisions within the county, an analysis rating the current system was developed. This spatially-explicit analysis leads to understanding where future changes and transformations might best be introduced. Because it is questioning whether or not the landscape is working well in relation to its interactions, this step rates and weighs the different parts of the landscape. The use of the GIS application assists in the method of “multicriteria assessment” required for such an in-depth analysis.


The initial questions posed at the beginning of this stage directed the project team towards four design approaches; each intervention had a unique goal. The resulting groups were: a public awareness team, a prevention team, and two teams accepting sea level rise. The public awareness team proposed different forms of informing residents and visitors of the county of the oncoming changes within their landscape. The prevention team took a heads-on approach against the forces of nature, implementing alternative forms of engineering and design to resist the rising sea. The first team accepting sea level rise, was to develop approaches and interventions primarily focusing on the safety of the natural habitats and wildlife of county. In contrast, the other sea level rise acceptance team came up with strategies aimed to cater to the residents and visitors’ needs.

Course Description by Ibrahim Bouzine RU LA '11

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