BY: KRISTIN KELLEHER, October 25, 2018
From floating dumpsters in the seaport during the bomb cyclone in January, to trucks stranded by the aquarium due to storm surges in April, the City of Boston was heavily affected by climate change impacts in the last year. It was not just the winter storms that took a toll on the city, the oppressive heat during the summer of 2018 may have been “one of the 10 hottest summers in the city since record keeping began here in 1872.” As daily temperatures increase due to global warming, our urban landscape will increasingly become subject to temperatures between 20 to 50 degrees hotter than in the suburbs.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is ensuring that the city takes targeted action on climate change and prepares for extreme weather impacts. Over the weekend, Boston was named as a winner in Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge, through which the city “will receive a two-year support package to increase “low-carbon mobility choices and improve energy performance.”
Last week at the Boston Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Walsh revealed a new aspect of the Resilient Boston Harbor plan, which builds off the City’s Climate Ready Charlestown and Climate Ready East Boston plans, with a focus on South Boston. During his presentation of the plan to the Boston Chamber of Commerce, he announced that the city would commit 10 percent of all new capital budget to resilience projects (about $16 million). The city is also applying for a pre-disaster mitigation grant from FEMA as well as encouraging philanthropic investment and contributions from the private sector.
The new plan, Climate Ready South Boston, is not just another study, but a refreshing approach with concrete strategies to prepare, like elevated landscapes, enhanced waterfront parks and flood resilient buildings. It encompasses future planning options that allow solutions to be “adapted to address higher flooding later.”
Key Takeaways from Climate Ready South Boston :
- Add 67 acres of green space to Boston’s 47-mile shoreline
- Outlines a series of detailed infrastructure improvements in South Boston that protect properties, businesses, and families with a combination of public, private, and philanthropic investment.
- Highlights the importance of coordinating plans across the city of Boston and between public and private partners.
- Proposes step-by-step “tracks” that allow for incremental implementation.
- Offers a series of green and gray infrastructure options and incorporates new open spaces for the public on the waterfront.
- Outlines the costs of proposed coastal resilience actions (between $513 million and $1 billion between now and the 2060s for South Boston).
- Reports that making these investments could protect 40,000 people, over 5,100 structures, and $8 billion in direct physical damage, displacement costs, mental stress, anxiety, and lost productivity (associated with the one percent annual chance flood elevation with 40 inches of sea level rise).
A key aspect of the plan is its call to ensure equity through the benefit of public parks and community engagement. The plan acknowledges that increasing public green space will, “improve connectivity and mobility, helping to close the equity gaps in open space and waterfront access and mitigate the impacts of other climate change hazards, such as extreme rainfall and heat.” The creation of this plan also emphasizes the social impacts and positive features of resiliency and seeks to remain inclusive in the planning process. “Over 650 people participated in the coastal resiliency design process through meetings, community events, one-on-one interviews, focus groups, open houses, and an online survey.”
Businesses Acting on Rising Seas
Preparing for climate change’s impacts and extreme weather events is widely supported in Boston and in surrounding communities. During our own Businesses Acting on Rising Seas Campaign this summer, we spoke with local business owners and managers in Chinatown and Chelsea, which have already started experiencing the negative effects of extreme weather events on their profits and long term planning.
“We’re surrounded by water so we need to be very aware of what’s going on. If I stand in the middle of our street and look I can see the river and it’s not that far away. And we all know that it is rising, as the polar caps start to melt.” – Joseph Vinard of Chelsea Bank a division of East Cambridge Bank
Local businesses in Chinatown, while not directly located on the water, are already feeling the effects of a changing climate, as it affects their day-to-day business operations.
“I think that the impacts of climate change have already begun to manifest. Having really extended periods of heat waves and lots of unpredictable weather and storms- I think that this isn’t going to get better. In the next ten years we are going to see drastic differences in climate, and flooding, that is a concern too.” – Emily Chin, Double Chin Restaurant
Continuing the Conversation Around Equity
While the report addresses direct threats from climate change and offers solutions to those issues, we need to make sure that we continue the conversation around equity. The Seaport District, and all of South Boston, have been the subject of many discussions around urban redevelopment, renewal and revitalization efforts.
Issues relating to urban renewal cannot be separated from equity, and they are intrinsically linked to sustainability and resiliency. Several neighborhoods included in the City’s reports, such as Dorchester Bay and East Boston, are also home to vulnerable populations, including low-income residents, and racial minorities, who are subject to disproportionate effects from climate change.
There are many different ways to ensure that local populations and business owners of all sizes are included in decision-making and are properly supported.
In our Businesses Acting on Rising Seas Campaign we have sought to engage with local businesses in multiple languages that range in size and industry. In our engagement in Chelsea we distributed literature in English and in Spanish and in Chinatown we distributed literature in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. The Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians reported that Boston speaks 140 languages, and only 66.6 % of Boston residents speak English. We have found that including local multilingual voices in the conversation across sectors benefits the community as a whole and provides a stronger foundation for our economy and business development.
The previous Climate Ready Plans in East Boston and Charlestown incorporated materials in Spanish during their outreach. In 2016, the City of Boston signed an ordinance “Establishing Language and Communications Access for City Services.” The ordinance declares it is, ” the City’s responsibility to ensure that all city services are accessible and equally attainable to all people in the City of Boston regardless of linguistic barriers, or physical or visual impairment. ” We spoke with the city of Boston’s Environment Department and they reported that they are in the process of working with City Hall to institute the ordinance in their resilience planning efforts. As the Environment Department begins their engagement in Downtown Boston and Dorchester, they assured us that their materials will be available in multiple languages.
Open Green Space and Inclusivity
One of the best parts of the City’s plan has been its commitment to creating open green space. The benefits of green space in urban environments have been well documented, in terms of human health and wellbeing and environmental equality.
A tailored approach that meets the needs of our residents, our businesses, and our community is essential. By adding 67 acres of green space to Boston’s 47-mile shoreline, Mayor Walsh and his team at City Hall prove that they understand targeted investment now can improve the city by ensuring our community is resilient and inclusive.
Local Business in New Development
For a thriving economy to exist and remain sustainable, a portion of it needs to remain local. The new South Boston plan lays out the idea that small businesses and entrepreneurs should have easy and equal access to economic development, thanks to increased commercial spaces at street level, and the creation of new public open space.
Encouraging local Boston businesses in future development increases equity and the overall resilience of the local economy. This plan provides a foundation for greater partnership between public and private partners to better prepare our city.
Acting Now to Save Money
Mayor Walsh emphasized how urgent it is to invest in resiliency now, “In South Boston, we could invest $1 billion…or we could pay $19 billion in citywide damages.” The priority placed on South Boston in the most recent Climate Ready plan, due to its filled tidelands and low-lying areas at risk of flooding impacts, is crucial. Predictions of of sea level rise show that it could amount to 9, 21, or 36 inches as soon as 2070. By acting now, Mayor Walsh seeks to save us money in the long run, stimulate local economic growth, and encourage the development of public green space.