City and Regional Planning

Reimagining Newport Harbor 2050 – A Strategic Implementation Plan

Fall 2019 Studio

Newport is predominantly surrounded by water, and the city’s identity has been shaped by its connection to the sea.  Serving as one of the major ports during the Colonial Era, infamous for being a prosperous trading city, Newport later became a place for wealthy Southerners to enjoy cool summers by the sea. Furthermore, Newport has housed a major Navy port for the US military, which is now slowly moving away from the area in order to consolidate in existing hubs in Virginia. Now, the city attracts more than 3.5 million visitors each year to enjoy the cool sea breeze, Gilded Age mansions, fresh food, and music festivals. Historical buildings, a seaside setting, and notable cultural events contribute to Newport’s identity as a quintessential New England coastal city; however, the city’s current existence is threatened by sea level rise as well as the increased frequency and power of storm events.

Exposure to sea level rise is greatest at Newport’s harbor due to its low-lying topography. Moreover, the harbor is one of the city’s main economic hubs, where tourists and residents spend most of their time. The plan aims to couple harbor enhancements with ways in which the area can embrace the rising seas—prompting Newport’s evolution into a resilient city that accommodates sea level rise.  Newport already has a Hazard Mitigation Plan that addresses large storm events, including storm surge. While storm surge has notable ramifications, this plan focuses on sea level rise; the projected high tides that will be experienced twice a day, every day, are within the current storm surge envelopes. Reimagine Newport Harbor 2050 is an incremental adaptation plan that presents sea level rise as an opportunity to address the primary existing issues in Newport Harbor, which will be exacerbated by 2-, 3-, and 5-foot sea level rise to provide a path for Newport’s resiliency and stability.

The plan explores four primary strategies. The first strategy includes several steps to provide a planned relocation for property owners whose homes are most vulnerable to sea level rise. The second strategy embraces sea level rise in innovative ways that allow for potential economic and employment growth through welcoming water into the current economic hub with a floating district, shifting the tourism economy further inland, and developing a water-based economy along the harbor front. The third strategy proposes to transform the existing man-made waterfront into resilient, publicly accessible space. The fourth set of recommendations raises stakeholder awareness regarding the imminent threats of sea level rise.


Scott Page, Lecturer