In recent years, scholars and planning practitioners have turned to managed retreat as an adaptation response to climate change. This provokes questions about how equity and justice are addressed in the relocation of people because historic planning practice has led to the marginalization of already vulnerable populations to environmentally risky areas. Through a review of the existing definitions of managed retreat and its purported benefits, this thesis asserts that the language of “managed retreat” is inherently at odds with the language of justice as understood through movement building and advocacy. Managed retreat focuses on outcomes and strategies for the removal of assets from risk rather than developing processes of transformational change for the relocation of people. Managed retreat does not focus on power building and creating recognitional, procedural and distributional justice in the face of climate impacts. Using this review and case study analysis, this thesis outlines the critical components of retreat that current planning practice fails to meet in regards to both the benefits of retreat and outcomes of a just process. Through a speculative spatial analysis, this thesis also outlines a sample method for planners and policy makers to apply the process of managing retreat, a reconceptualization of managed retreat with the focus on a just and deeply democratic process. The result a proposed relocation suitability index that identifies the potential areas communities may move to, in order to understand the opportunities, challenges and constraints of relocation. The analysis reaffirms that a community’s collective ownership over place is central to the role of planning practice in conveying and creating a life-enhancing, equitable and legitimate future that meets the needs of all people.
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