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We Are Boston’s Waterfront Discusses Future Planning, What We Can Do Now

We Are Boston’s Waterfront hosted a community meeting with the Conservation Law Foundation on January 17, prompted by the recent storm flooding, to discuss the changes we are seeing to the waterfront and how we can plan for the future. Over 60 residents from the North End, Waterfront and surrounding neighborhoods attended, packing the Golden Goose Cafe to capacity.

Deanna Moran, Director of Environmental Planning at the Conservation Law Foundation presented on how our climate is changing and what that means for the waterfront:

  1. Sea Level Rise – At least 3 feet of sea level rise is likely during the second half of the century. Projecting out to 2100, we could see up to 7.4 feet of rise. Even if we cut carbon emissions to zero today, the damage is done up to at least 2030, so we need to plan for these impacts. The January 4th storm hit at an astronomical high tide, with this replaced by 3 feet of sea level rise, flooding will become the norm.
  2. Deanna Moran, Director of Environmental Planning at the Conservation Law Foundation, presents climate impact data to community members.

    Extreme Heat – In addition to rising average temperatures, we’re going to start seeing more heat waves. The North End / Waterfront neighborhood has less tree canopy than other areas of the city, which means higher heat island effect. We’re also experiencing climate migration, where temperatures of southern locations start to migrate north. In 50 years, our summers are predicted to be more like Washington D.C.; in 80 years, like Birmingham, Alabama.

  3. Extreme Precipitation – We may not necessarily see more rainfall totals over a year, but we’re going to see increased rain at one time. By 2060, heavy precipitation events could see 6 inches of rainfall in 24 hours. This, in combination with Boston’s older, undersized water infrastructure, will lead to localized flooding.

What is the City doing about this?
Climate Ready Boston has taken global climate projections and scaled them down to a regional level. This data is publicly available, and you can use the Climate Ready Map Explorer to zoom in on your neighborhood to see data related to water level, heat, etc. Now, they are starting neighborhood level reports, having just completed East Boston and Charlestown. They are looking at where the flood entry points are and developing interventions to cut off the water.

What needs to be done?
Climate Ready Boston has a long list of recommendations for the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). Residents are now encouraged to reach out to city officials to instigate these changes in development practices. Right now, there are no concrete requirements for climate resiliency in terms of development in Massachusetts. We need to think about infrastructure as it relates to the changing climate and set regulations for construction, zoning, building utilities, etc. The city has always based its planning on historical data, but now it’s time to put projection data into the planning process.

In the proposed municipal harbor plan for the Downtown Waterfront, before any developments can be permitted, the BPDA will create design plans for the building, taking into account climate change and new zoning laws. Right now, a developer has to look at a map and tell the BPDA what they think the climate impact will be to their building and how they will handle it, but there are no required standards to follow. Hopefully these standards will be created and enforced before new developments.

State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, who also attended the meeting, encouraged the intersection of this discussion with that of planning to connect the inner harbor. Let’s talk to our neighbors and develop a plan together that includes climate resiliency measures.

Sydney Asbury speaks on behalf of We Are Boston’s Waterfront on how community members can get involved.

What can residents do?

As part of these efforts, nine North End / Waterfront condominium boards sent a letter to city officials in December to discuss climate change and development. They just received a response from BPDA Director Brian Golden agreeing to meet with the group to talk about neighborhood developments and how we’re going to plan for climate resiliency. The North End / Waterfront group will stress the need to be able to repel flooding water, to design new developments not to flood and not to push water into other places, and that building higher should not be the answer. Read more and see both letters here.