Meet Amelia Taylor-Hochberg (IAP 2019)

Second-year master of city planning student Amelia Taylor-Hochberg spent IAP 2019 working with the Consensus Building Institute (CBI), a nonprofit focused on facilitation, mediation, citizen engagement, and organizational strategy and development. After joining CBI at the start of her program as a Master of City Planning Student in DUSP (2017), Taylor-Hochberg has worked with the organization ever since and will continue working with CBI through her final semester this spring. CBI is an organization that, in Taylor-Hochberg’s words, “helps stakeholders work through very complex problems, where there’s no clear way of getting from A to B”. Some of CBI’s work focuses on climate change issues, and Taylor-Hochberg’s internship in particular has been centered around what they call ‘climigration’: human migration due to climate change. A core policy approach to this issue has been ‘managed retreat’, or the strategic government buyout and relocation of property owners who face imminent risks of extreme flooding.

For Taylor-Hochberg, who holds an undergraduate degree in Rhetoric and who has always been interested in mediation and argumentation, the opportunity to work with CBI felt both logical and engaging, even if the substance of that work was completely foreign to her. “I knew nothing about managed retreat before this,” Taylor-Hochberg says, “I had just started my degree and I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to hang my hat yet.” And so, initially CBI appealed to her in ways more practical than thematic. As a writer, editor and long-time freelancer for various architecture publications before coming to MIT, Taylor-Hochberg felt she was well equipped with the practical skills to partner with CBI. The majority of her internship in climigration was focused on building a professional network of people working on the issue, as well as developing news and blog content for the website. Taylor-Hochberg’s role, however, naturally led to deeper understandings for what that work entails. The work necessitated learning more about managed retreat, and she is now fascinated by the “can of worms” that the issue opens up.

Managed retreat can happen when a community can no longer hold out against the effects of climate change and ultimately feels the need to relocate — such as a coastal community that routinely floods, and as a result faces dwindling property values. As of right now, however, there is no clear guidebook to navigate these complex buyout and relocation scenarios. “Municipal governments and state governments aren’t really prepared to manage this dialogue, for many, many reasons,” Taylor-Hochberg says of managed retreat. “CBI wants to help local communities and municipal governments navigate this kind of thing.” This kind of work, the complicated and messy and vital dialogue-building, is something that Taylor-Hochberg has really valued in her time with CBI. And while she isn’t sure where this experience will take her moving forward, or even if this kind of mediation is something she would continue to pursue, Taylor-Hochberg says her time with CBI has opened up new pathways of both thought and practice. “The internship has really provoked my interest in negotiation and mediation skill within planning processes.” And while Taylor-Hochberg doubts she will continue working on the specific projects she has done with CBI post-graduation, this partnership has allowed her to view planning and community in new and different ways.

An LA-native, she plans to return to her hometown and keep developing her planning and mediation skills, in a place that has recently undergone massive changes and will continue to undergo environmental and architectural challenges in the future. “There’s a huge ongoing project on redeveloping the riverfront that will also dovetail with Olympic planning, and I imagine that the work CBI does will be needed and applied there,” she says. “If I were able to do that kind of work on those kinds of projects, that would be really great.”

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