Abstract

Managed retreat—the purposeful, coordinated movement of people and assets out of harm’s way—is a controversial and often overlooked adaptation tool but also a potentially transformative one. In the United States, managed retreat has occurred primarily through federally funded property acquisition programs that are unlikely to be able to scale to meet the future demands of climate change. There are numerous psychological, institutional, and practical barriers to engaging in managed retreat, so understanding how United States communities have overcome these barriers, even at a small scale, could provide insights for applying retreat in other contexts and at larger scales. This paper articulates why the United States needs managed retreat to be viable at scale, identifies barriers, recommends areas for scholarship and practice to learn from past experience, and argues for a national vision for coastal adaptation, such as a National Seashore, to provide a coordinating and motivating focus for future work.

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