Reimagining the Form of Rural Coastal Communities

Flood stage post

Florida Sea Grant funded a second sea level planning project, Reimagining the Form of Rural Coastal Communities in Response to Sea Level Rise, that extends the work of the team’s project, Planning for Coastal Change in Levy County. This new project began in May, 2014 and has been working collaboratively with local and regional experts to develop, integrate, and prioritize sea level rise adaptation strategies for the Cedar Key-Rosewood area.

During the first portion of the project, team members analyzed the area’s vulnerability and developed potential adaptation strategies from four specific viewpoints: Urban Design, Coastal Hazards, Natural Resources, and Socio-economic. While developing these strategies, team members met with local and regional experts at the Senator George G. Kirkpatrick Marine Laboratory in Cedar Key to present findings and receive feedback about the stakeholders’ preferences and guidance on future research directions.

The second portion of the project focuses on integrating the strategies proposed from the four different viewpoints, choosing a priority strategy for further exploration, and developing the steps needed for its implementation.

After discussing various strategy options with local experts, the team is now focusing on developing specific policies that would provide the opportunity for innovative sea level rise adaptation to occur. The team will be meeting again with local experts in July and August to receive feedback on the policies, and a public presentation will be held in August to share the project’s findings and outcomes with the community.

The project runs through September, 2015, and we will be posting information about the August public meeting, project updates, and the project’s final report during the next few months.

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Strategies for the Vernacular Landscape of Cedar Key

Cedar Key Visconti

Cedar Key offers a charming and eclectic character like no other. As the community experiences coastal change, including from sea level rise, it is vital that the qualities that make Cedar Key the place it is are not lost and that the ways of life of the people are maintained. Adaptive planning should be carried out in a way that is sensitive to a community’s lifestyle and valued qualities.

Claudia Visconti, a recent graduate from the University of Florida’s Master of Landscape Architecture program, worked with residents of Cedar Key to determine what they valued most about their community and how these factors could be maintained or evolved in the face of sea level rise. Claudia’s thesis consisted of onsite analysis and participatory processes that allowed her to gain an understanding of many aspects of the vernacular landscape of Cedar Key. Vernacular landscape is defined as “a cultural landscape that evolved through use by the people whose activities or occupancy shaped that landscape” (The Cultural Landscape Foundation).

A three feet (one meter) sea level rise “bathtub model,” based on elevation, was used to project inundation of Cedar Key and a study area expanding five miles outside of the community. Existing physical site conditions and the sea level rise projection model allowed opportunities for relocation to be identified. Claudia engaged in a “grass roots”-type effort to show the community how these relocation opportunities can maintain or assist in the evolution of their valued spaces, places, activities, and characteristics. From these findings and her developed methodology, Claudia explains the transferability of her research to subsequent communities interested in adaptive planning that is sensitive to the vernacular landscape of a community. Claudia’s research can be used to begin the discussion of how adaptive planning can work to maintain or assist in the evolution of the ways of life of the people and their community. For more information on this topic, Claudia’s thesis document is available here: TerminalProject_ViscontiC.

Important places Visconti

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Final Project Findings Report



The Planning for Coastal Change in Levy County project has released its final, 206-page findings report. The report is the culmination of 2 ½ years of sea level rise adaptation planning and outreach funded by Florida Sea Grant and conducted by an interdisciplinary team led by the University of Florida’s College of Design, Construction, and Planning, in consultation with local leaders and community members.

The Planning for Coastal Change in Levy County project initiated planning for coastal change, with a focus on the current and potential impacts of future sea level rise, in Levy County, Florida, and its coastal communities of the City of Cedar Key, unincorporated Sumner and Rosewood, and the Towns of Yankeetown and Inglis. The final report recounts the project’s planning methods, provides information, numeric data, and maps regarding vulnerabilities to sea level rise and other coastal changes, summarizes community member feedback from project workshops, discusses local adaptive capacities, and offers recommendations for adaptation strategies and ongoing planning. The report is intended to serve as an information resource for Levy County and its coastal communities, and it provides an example of small town and rural coastal change planning and outreach for the Big Bend region and beyond. A separate coastal methods guidebook based on this project will be posted on this website in early December 2014.

The project found that Levy County and its coastal communities, while highly vulnerable to sea level rise and other coastal hazards due to their location in the Big Bend region of the Gulf of Mexico, are resourceful and resilient. There is value in addressing sea level rise with locally specific information, and many options for adaptation exist. Most optimistically, it is possible that sea level rise could open new possibilities and invigorate community and economic development, planning, and design to yield other benefits as well.

By the end of the project, Levy County institutions and organizations were using the project’s coastal change information. Most immediately for the UF team, Florida Sea Grant funded a second sea level rise planning project that began in summer 2014. The new project will work collaboratively with local and regional experts to further develop, integrate, and prioritize adaptation strategies for the Cedar Key-Rosewood area. More information and updates about this project will be posted on this website.

We are grateful for the many people and organizations in Levy County, Cedar Key, Sumner, Rosewood, Yankeetown, and Inglis, who contributed their time, knowledge, ideas, and other resources to the Planning for Coastal Change in Levy County project. Their involvement brought the project to life and gave it relevance, and without their support, the project could not have happened.

Levy County

Big Bend Region

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APA STaR Student Project Award

Sea Level Rise Award

APA STaR award winners.  From left to right: Sean Reiss, Dr. Kathryn Frank, Jana Rosenbloom, Michael Volk, Rong Zeng, and Kevin Bennett.

The Planning for Coastal Change in Levy County team is pleased to announce that four graduate students from the University of Florida’s College of Design, Construction and Planning, led by principal investigator Dr. Kathryn Frank and project manager Michael Volk, have received an American Planning Association (APA) Award for Excellence in Small Town and Rural Planning (STaR).

A portion of the larger Levy County project focusing on the small, neighboring coastal towns of Yankeetown and Inglis, Florida, was submitted to the APA for award consideration.  This part of the project, conducted during the summer of 2013 in partnership with Yankeetown and Inglis officials, town staff, and citizens, provides a technical foundation and recommendations for adaptation and planning for coastal change in the two communities. The Yankeetown-Inglis project began by establishing planning goals and principles, hosting a public workshop, and collecting and analyzing a variety of information, including geographic impacts of sea level rise, other hazards and coastal changes, and citizens’ preferences for adaptation. Based on these inputs, the project team recommended coordination of sea level rise adaptation strategies across the two towns and with economic redevelopment. The project team identified six “Adaptation Areas”, each representing a different section or corridor of the towns that had unique features, vulnerabilities, and roles in adaptation. Both the local leaders and the University of Florida researchers have expressed the desire for continuing the partnership as future funding and student learning opportunities come along.

The finalized Yankeetown-Inglis Adaptive Design Report was discussed on the blog in January 2014.

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Coastal Towns in Transition

Many small coastal towns, such as Cedar Key, Yankeetown, and Inglis, are confronted with the challenge of attracting visitors and residents for economic development while maintaining their unique, vernacular character. Moreover, the concerns for quality, compatible design of new development are potentially compounded by the incorporation of sea level rise adaptation strategies, such as elevating buildings.


Recent development in Cedar Key. Elevating buildings reduces flooding exposure to storm surges and rising sea level, but it also results in distinctive building character that requires additional design measures to maintain cohesion with community vernacular.

Maintaining sense of place in the face of development pressures is the central theme of Raymond James Green’s book, Coastal Towns in Transition (2010). In this book, Green studied seaside communities to understand what place-character is, why it is important, and how it can be fostered through planning and design. The study was prompted by the ‘sea change phenomenon’ caused by the migration of inner-continental suburban dwellers to smaller, scenic coastal towns in an effort to seek out a more relaxed lifestyle. As population in small coastal towns increases, developers may capitalize on rising property values and tourism via the production of generic retail centers and large scale condominiums. The unique sense of place which drew visitors and new residents may be subsequently lost. Additionally, while environmental impacts in these delicate coastal ecosystems are not necessarily central to Green’s focus, ecological damage is contributing factor to the erosion of place-character.

Green notes that planning and design concerns around place-character are gaining ground with professionals and communities, but a lack of understanding and methodology in establishing its importance is still a hindrance. Community organizations fighting development deemed inappropriate often cite ‘unique sense of place’ as a reason why homogenizing commercial interests should not be allowed to prevail in their towns. This is an argument that usually fails in court due to its subjectivity. Definitions of place-character are typically vague, and pinning down exactly what it means to an individual, let alone an entire community, can be difficult. Nevertheless, Green asserts that there are significant financial, personal, and environmental reasons to conserve place-character, and that good policy and planning for it will only come out of good research.

Coastal Towns in Transition presents theoretical models which would be of interest to researchers, offers a case study with accompanying methodology for review, and concludes with a pertinent chapter of the particular challenge that climate change poses for maintaining coastal community character. This knowledge is especially applicable when considering adaptive strategies to address sea level rise impacts.


Sense of place is a difficult, collective concept to define. The width of a main street, the textures of old buildings, the shade over a sidewalk, the smell of a local restaurant – many things contribute to establish place character.

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Changing Levy Coast Arts Project

Homage to the Honeymoon Cottage Levy County Arts Project Opening

Cedar Key Art Center exhibits reflect coastal change

On February 1st, the Cedar Key Arts Center and the University of Florida hosted the opening reception for two “coastal change” art exhibits that remain on display at the Center throughout the month of February.

In the Member’s Gallery is the Changing Levy Coast Arts Project, which is a partnership between the local arts community and a University of Florida team of faculty and graduate students from the School of Landscape Architecture and Planning. The Changing Levy Coast Arts Project is part of the larger two-year initiative funded by Florida Sea Grant that is focused on planning for coastal change and sea level rise in Levy County.

For the Changing Levy Coast Arts Project, seven participating artists have displayed fifteen pieces in a mix of styles and media – ranging from paintings, journey daybook pages, mixed media,  jewelry, and sculpture –each engaging the issues of coastal change and sea level rise in their own way. Most of the pieces explored Cedar Key’s coastal landscape and how changes may affect the environment and its inhabitants, while other installations reflected on human development trends and questioned how long those trends can be maintained. One viewer felt the artwork captured “the unique character and talent of a very special place.”

The exhibit also displays information from the Planning for Coastal Change in Levy County Project, including project posters illustrating potential sea level rise impacts to coastal habitats and development in the county, a short film that recorded local oral histories on coastal change, and a “drift wood quilt” created by participants in the Cedar Key Summer Youth Program, where they used paint to illustrate their understanding of sea level rise and its impacts on boards, or “patches” that were “sewn” together with rope, tying their visions together.

At the exhibit opening, graduate student and event coordinator, Sarah Thompson, appreciated the efforts of each artist and the Cedar Key Arts Center. “It was a great opportunity for the community to gather and explore its unique relationship with coastal change. I was thrilled with the artwork, and even more impressed by the people creating and engaging with it.”

Also on display at the Cedar Key Arts Center during February is the Homage to the Honeymoon Cottage. The Honeymoon Cottage is a decades-old iconic Cedar Key structure that completely collapsed during a storm in 2013. This exhibit also highlights important changes for the Cedar Key community.

A sampling of works created for the Changing Levy Coast Arts Project: “Warning Signs” by Russ Weaver, a portion of “Waiting” by Margaret Pulis Herrick, and “Exhale” by Amy Gernhardt.




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The Vernacular

The term vernacular is a word most often heard in academic circles.  It is the type of word typically reserved for theoretical discussions and peer-reviewed papers.  In fact, a person could be forgiven if they reacted with surprise at hearing it discussed at a local county or city council meeting.  Yet, the term’s meaning contains a feeling many know and experience everyday within the places they call home.  Within Levy County, vernacular meaning has been an important concept for project researchers to be attuned with so that adaptive strategies to sea level change are developed in a manner which are respectful to the county’s existing culture and history.

Cedar Key_Bayou

Vernacular can be considered the place character of everyday life.  The definition’s origin lies within distinctions made by architectural historians of designed buildings as opposed to homemade, locally crafted dwellings.  Descriptions such as timeless, traditional, and regional are often associated with vernacular architecture.  The vernacular is often characterized by a more generational growth, an evolution of sorts.  Additionally, it is usually dependent on local materials and has a more pronounced relationship with nearby ecosystems.  It is the realm of the rural standing in contrast to the master-plans of urban efficiency and importation.


Discussion of the vernacular took on additional importance to social geographers and landscape planners during the 1960’s and 1970’s when the “geography of nowhere,” as James Kuntsler would say, began to be seriously challenged.  Led by the reflections of theorists such as J.B. Jackson, Pierce Lewis, and Yi Fu Tuan, explorations into what vernacular meant and how planners should react to it are still informing landscape planning and design today.  The most significant change was that the term vernacular came to be utilized to describe not just architecture but types of entire cultural landscapes.  So, whether viewing an entire town’s layout, a main street’s architecture, a neighbor’s yard, a grid of streets, or the favorite local spots to grab a bite or take a stroll, vernacular summarizes the local, organic interaction over time of people and the spaces they inhabit.

Cedar Key_Commercial

One of the most famous examples of how design decisions can be impacted by analyzing the vernacular landscape was summarized in an essay by Randy Hester titled, “Subconscious Landscapes of the Heart.”  His study in the coastal town of Manteo, North Carolina was one of the first examples of how resident feedback and a critical study of the vernacular landscape, especially in smaller rural areas, provided important data to planners and designers.  Hester termed social patterns and places of local residents “Sacred Structures” because of their importance to community identity and sense of well-being.  His definition is worth quoting in full as it contains the range of vernacular meaning:

… sacred structure would be those places – buildings, outdoor spaces, and landscapes – that exemplify, reinforce, and perhaps even extol the everyday patterns and special rituals of community life, places that have become so essential to the lives of residents through use or symbolism that the community collectively identifies with the places.

Cedar Key_Home

So what does the mean exactly for Levy County?  First, as can be casually observed, the character of Cedar Key, for instance, is not defined by the architecture of a particular theory of design, but by the accumulations of those that have made their lives there and the natural systems surrounding them.  Over the two year research period that the Coastal Change team has been active within the area particular attention has been paid to the special character of the “Hidden Coast” and its communities.  Public workshops and local feedback are key to this kind of analysis.  Losing what makes communities like Cedar Key and Yankeetown special to out-of-place construction and obtrusive design can potentially be just as emotionally and economically disastrous as the consequences which rising waters present.  The answers must strike a balance between addressing the critical need to prepare for sea-level change while allowing residents and visitors to still identify with what is most dear to them within the landscape they love.  The intended result is stronger economic viability and community resiliency while addressing change in a way that is sensitive to Levy County’s unique, vernacular character.


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