Pictures Matter: How Images of Projected Sea-Level Rise Shape Long-Term Sustainable Design Decisions for Infrastructure Systems

Julie Milovanovic, Tripp Shealy, Leidy Klotz, Eric J. Johnson, Elke U. Weber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Community input matters in long-term decisions related to climate change, including the development of public infrastructure. In order to assess the effect of different ways of informing the public about infrastructure projects, a sample of people in the United States (n = 630) was provided with a case study concerning the redevelopment of the San Diego Airport. Participants received the same written information about the projected future condition of the airport. In addition, participants received images either portraying current conditions or portraying conditions in 2100 based on NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) sea-level rise data. Participants were asked to choose 7 out of 21 design options to implement in the redevelopment project. The framework used for the design options stemmed from the Envision rating system. We analyzed the participants’ selection of the credits using generalized linear mixed models. Those that received the images portraying the future were significantly more likely to select design options that would reduce the risk of climate change and flooding. Images portraying sea-level rise had different effects depending on participant demographics. Such images increased the selection of design elements related to the climate and risk for participants identifying as female or as Democrat. For participants identifying as male or as Republican, the same images increased their selection of design elements to enhance community public space. The results demonstrate the positive effects of portraying the future in terms of encouraging focus on long-term sustainable design decisions for infrastructure systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3007
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


  • Behavioral decision-making
  • Climate and risk
  • Envision rating system
  • Logistic modeling
  • Sustainable infrastructure
  • Vivid imagery


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