Linda Shi: Ecological Imaginaries of Regional Adaptation

Four posters for regional resiliency and climate change plans

From top left, plans for regional resilience in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Northeast Florida, and Southeast Florida. Sources: MTC/ABAG, LARC, NEFRC, and Southeast Florida Compact

Linda Shi is an assistant professor in Cornell's Department of City and Regional Planning. Her research and practice focus on urban environmental and regional governance and advancing planning policies to manage the urban climate transition in ways that improve social equity and ecological sustainability. Most recently, her research examines how the crosscutting challenge of climate change impact is reviving collaborative efforts across metropolitan regions of the U.S. Her experiences suggest that limitations of existing institutions are leading to adaptation policies that reproduce or worsen existing vulnerabilities, and that such efforts should place greater emphasis on building institutions for regional governance than on policies for climate adaptation per se. Shi has a Ph.D. in urban and regional planning from MIT, a master's in urban planning from Harvard GSD, and a bachelor's and master's in environmental management from Yale University.


A growing number of metropolitan areas in the U.S. have developed new collaborative initiatives to adapt to climate change at a regional scale. This lecture discusses how these efforts have framed ideas of nature and regional collaboration given the magnitude and intensity of projected climate change. Analysis of resiliency plans from five coastal metro regions suggests that these regions have created "imaginaries" that characterize nature as predictable and manageable, and regional collaboration as ecological and local. These imagined ideals mask the underlying drivers of vulnerability and enable regions to continue to expand in ecologically vulnerable areas without changing developmental or governance paradigms. Such narratives "annul the properly political moment" (to use the words of geographer Erik Swyngedouw) that could accompany efforts to transform regions in the face of climate change.