Boston’s plans for new development at odds with flood projections

One plan calls for building in areas predicted to be flooded during high tides as sea levels rise.

January 09, 2017 |

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In Boston, two recent reports, one on the impact of climate change, and the other on planning for future development, provoked a hard look at the wisdom of building in increasingly flood-prone areas.

The planning report, “Imagine Boston 2030,” identifies five priority growth areas in the metro area. Four of the five growth areas, including the booming Seaport District in South Boston, are extremely vulnerable to flooding according to the other report, “Climate Ready Boston.” 

Stephen Gray, assistant professor of urban design at Harvard Graduate School of Design, and a cochairman for Boston’s 100 Resilient Cities Resilience Collaborative, points out the contradiction in an opinion column in the Boston Globe. He asks: “How and where we decide to grow will have immeasurable economic and social consequences, so why would we intentionally grow in parts of the city that we know to be extremely vulnerable to flooding?”

He points out that in the Seaport construction permits “continue to be approved so long as buildings have floodable first floors and utilities on the roof. By this measure, the city maintains that floodable buildings are a viable solution, even if the streets around them could eventually be ankle deep in mud and water depending on the tide.” Coastal cities around the world are faced with similar dilemmas concerning where best to encourage new development in the face of rising sea levels induced by climate change, and where best to invest in flood mitigation infrastructure.

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