Skip to main content

Retreat: Urban Unbuilding in the Era of Climate Change

Liz Koslov, Assistant Professor, Department of Urban Planning and Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA

Apr 19 2021 | 11:00 am to 12:00 pm PDT Online

Headshot of Liz Koslov
Liz Koslov

Dr. Koslov's work includes looking at the possibilities for collective climate adaptation. Anyone interested in learning about the social dimensions of climate change and environmental justice should attend this talk.
— Claudia Flores, MESM 2021


As seas rise and climate change amplifies all kinds of extreme weather, we are seeing more calls to remove and restrict development in the riskiest areas. Yet "managed retreat"—the relocation of people, unbuilding of land, and restoration of habitat in places exposed to environmental hazards—remains a highly contested idea and incredibly fraught in practice. This talk explores retreat as an issue of environmental and climate justice through a close look at how the process unfolded in Staten Island, New York, after Hurricane Sandy. Drawing on four years of ethnographic fieldwork in waterfront neighborhoods where predominantly white, middle-class, politically conservative homeowners organized to lobby for home buyouts, I discuss how these communities came to see themselves as vulnerable and claim resources to retreat, and how buyouts—the primary tool to enact retreat in the US at present—reproduce social inequality.


Liz Koslov is Assistant Professor in the Department of Urban Planning and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, where she studies struggles over urban space and relocation, displacement, and migration in the context of climate change. She is currently writing a book about the politics of "retreat" from places exposed to repeat disasters and sea-level rise. Related research appears in Public Culture, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, and CITY. Prior to joining UCLA, Koslov was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at MIT. She holds a PhD in Media, Culture, and Communication from NYU.

arrow up icon