Nearly seven months after the town of Lytton, B.C., burned to the ground in a raging inferno, what was once a community of nearly 300 sits largely uninhabited.
“It’s pretty well a ghost town,” laments the town’s mayor, Jan Polderman, in an interview with Global News.
The mayor insists that he wants Lytton rebuilt. This is a completely different approach to what’s called a ‘planned or’managed retreat’, which involves residents being paid to leave areas that are at high risk. Sometimes, this can be very reluctantly or even against their wishes.
Conversations around managed retreat, while once off the table and considered taboo, are now happening with more frequency in Canada, including in communities like Gatineau, Que., or Grand Forks, B.C. , Each of these communities has been affected by recurring flooding.
Jesse Keenan is an associate professor at Tulane University, New Orleans. He studies the impact of climate change on migration, and by extension, real estate prices and urban planning policies.
He also says that there is a type of migration at the other end of this continuum where residents, tired and weary of the dangers of floods, forest fires and other hazards, decide to move to another part of the country or the world.
” These are people with the means. They are trying to stay ahead of the curve. They’re thinking about not just their generation, but the next generation.”
Whether by necessity or by choice, ‘cli-migration,’ as it’s called, is still a niche area of research, with most of the evidence of this type of migration still in the anecdotal stage.
But, says Keenan, “we’re beginning to see some of the early evidence, if you will, of people on the move because of climate.”
The road to Duluth
Duluth is a small community on the shores of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota. Karen Pagel Guerndt, long-time resident, said that it’s the type of place people would choose to live if they enjoy outdoor activities such as skiing, biking, or hiking.
These qualities are now attracting a completely different kind of clientele: people who move to Duluth for the safe harbor against climate change.
Why ‘climate-proof’ cities are attracting new residents
Katie Rohner, who readily admits she is a “climate migrant,” moved to Duluth from Chico, Calif., in September 2021 – after having to live through four consecutive years of intense wildfires, one of which, in 2018, completely destroyed the neighbouring community of Paradise. She and her husband just bought their “forever house” in Duluth. Global News spoke to her that she loves it here. Although her best friend moved to Duluth four year ago, she said that she didn’t know the exact location.
Emphasizing that she is not a scientist, Guerndt, the realtor, says the prevailing wisdom among Duluthians has long been that Lake Superior “acts kind of like a big refrigerator.” That’s not exactly a selling point when it’s -20 C out, she says, or it’s when it’s snowing in April.
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We can get snow as early as October and can continue until May. That’s shocking for many people,” she said. But when your community is facing the threat of forest fires each year or is at high risk of sinking due to sea level rise, then a place like Duluth can be a very exciting option, especially if you are able to work from home.
100 days after devastating wildfire, hundreds of evacuated Lytton residents have yet to return
That was the calculus for Rose Chivers and her husband, Ryan. Salt Lake City is a mountainous area that suffers from air pollution. As someone with asthma, Chivers’s experience in a normal environment is not good enough. The last two summers were particularly bad because of the wildfire smoke from California, Oregon and other places. She said that it was impossible to live here .”
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For the past few months, Chivers have been looking for a home in Duluth. They are aware that they are not ‘escaping’ climate changes, but they are just trying to improve their quality of living…for now.
The Chivers, like Rohner, hadn’t given Duluth much thought until she came across an article that referred to Jesse Keenan’s research and his selection of Duluth as the most climate-proof in the U.S .
The Rohners made their move and the Chivers plan to make their move soon. Others are also looking at Duluth to protect themselves from future climate risks.
Guerndt sold a house recently to a North Carolina buyer who was looking for an investment property that would be climate-safe. The buyer’s theory was “to buy a property here, use it as a rental property for a few years, until she and her family members would move here in the future.”
For climate adaptation expert Keenan, whose research has identified the benefits of Duluth, gentrification is one of the unintended consequences of this emerging phenomenon. According to Keenan, people moving into less-developed areas can have a major impact on the real estate market and even the quality of living.
“As people come in, the (property values) get re-assessed, which causes people to move out. This is a big challenge in many areas,” Keenan states.
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