Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Museums & UN Sustainable Development Goals: III #11 & #17 Strawbery Banke Museum and Sea Level Rise

I've invited a guest post by Rodney D. Rowland at Strawbery Banke Museum. His story of how the museum works with City of Portsmouth, NH, to address Sea Level Rise impact is an important example of the vulnerability assessment process, and the special value of museums in that process for advancing the science of understanding, and the special role of museums in community engagement for planning. 

The museum sits at the lowest point in the City.
Strawbery Banke Museum is located 400 feet from the banks of the Piscataqua River, in downtown Portsmouth NH. It is a nine-acre living history museum that maintains 37 historic houses, most on their original foundations. In keeping with its commitment for Strawbery Banke to be “a place to learn, a place to gather and a sustainable resource for the community,” the museum has adopted specific “green” initiatives in its most recent Strategic and Long-Range Plans. From adopting ‘zero waste’ practices at signature events to selecting a higher-efficiency chiller for the seasonal ice rink, Strawbery Banke considers environmentally-friendly practices good for the health of the planet and the museum.

Toward that end, Strawbery Banke is now collaborating with the City of Portsmouth as a case study in identifying and mitigating the impact of sea level rise on the waterfront and on ground water. One house, the Shapley Drisco House (yellow building in the photo), was built in 1795 along what was a tidal inlet called Puddle Dock.  The inlet was filled in in circa 1905. This building serves an important interpretive “Change Over Time” message for the museum, showing two time periods (1795 and 1955) in furnished spaces on the first floor. The building is also an important income-producing site for the museum for its rented commercial space on the second floor.
For over a decade the house and contents have experienced accelerated deterioration due to salt water infiltration during, originally, storm surge and, now, astronomically high tide or King Tides. The increased rate of infiltration is due to a rise in overall sea level.  During tidal events from December 2017 through March 2018, 16 to 27 inches of salt water was observed in the basement. [Sarah's note: see the fantastic time lapse video here.]

Mechanic Street, one block from the museum,  during a King Tide.
Seeking a solution to this increasing threat to Strawbery Banke and other low-lying properties in the neighborhood, the City of Portsmouth invited the museum to join in its Local Advisory Committee (LAC) for the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment on Historic Portsmouth. Using data and maps created during the Coastal Resilience Initiative, the LAC undertook the process of evaluating parts of the City most vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge with the objective of selecting test sites to model mitigation strategies. Every property in the high risk area was given am historic value, a cultural value, and a monetary value. Strawbery Banke, with some of the most historic and well-preserved houses, and 90,000 annual visitors, and assessed property value, achieved a score in the top tier for all three. All of the evaluated at-risk areas were included on the City’s storyboard. As mitigation strategies are fully-vetted they will be include at this site for the community to follow. 

As this partnership continues to grow, other organizations are coming forward to talk about what they are doing in the area of climate change. In March 2018, the museum hosted a summit with 12 other state organizations to share ideas and research, alongside Strawbery Banke and the City. It is these community wide partnerships that will help create the best solutions. Spread the word, share your stories, and make sure you are at your Climate Change Assessment table!

Rodney Rowland, Director of Special Projects and Facilities, volunteered for Strawbery Banke first in 1976. He is currently responsible for the historic properties on the site, overseeing the properties and restoration department and is project manager for various projects.  After graduating from Lake Forest College with a B.A. in history, Rodney interned with the museum, then joined the museum staff in 1990, as curatorial assistant working with the Curator on new exhibits and processing the decorative arts collection.  He later became Collections Manager and was lead objects conservator for the 1943 Little Corner Store project.  In 2004, Rodney was promoted to manage the construction of the TYCO Visitors Center (2005) and the Carter Collections Center (2008).  603-422-7525,

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