Skip to content

BSA News

Aug 28, 2018

Designing for Climate Resiliency + Adaptation: Strengthening our Neighborhoods

Resilience initiatives header

Visualizing Multiple Layers of Climate Readiness.

Image courtesy of Climate Ready Boston.

In the first of a series of forums exploring resiliency and adaptation, the BSA/AIA and the BSA Foundation are partnering with the Green Ribbon Comission (GRC) to explore the importance of designing for resilience on a districtwide scale.

The series will begin with a look at the findings of the GRC’s most recent neighborhood study, Climate Ready South Boston. The forum also provides an opportunity to learn about the BPDA’s efforts to implement flood zoning overlay districts and create resiliency design guidelines.

During the October 5 event, presenters from the architecture profession will also use case studies to talk about best practices for site specific interventions that work well with neighborhood-wide plans. The panel will focus on district-wide approaches to climate adaptation that are relevant throughout the Greater Boston area where both existing building stock and new construction are vulnerable and need to be acted upon now to become more resilient.

District Wide Planning for Climate Resiliency

The City’s foundational policy framework for addressing climate change is Climate Ready Boston, issued by the GRC in 2016. Climate Ready Boston maps out a multi-layered strategy to protect the city and the region, incorporating building-scale, district-scale, and eventually harbor-wide measures. This approach speaks directly to our roles as architects, planners, and designers. In this multi-layered system, independent flood protection systems can be implemented over time, can reduce the risk of a failure associated with a single line of defense, and allow us to get started now.

Lessons from the East Boston, Charlestown, and South Boston district resiliency studies.

Building on Climate Ready Boston, the GRC has been developing a series of in-depth reports, addressing resiliency strategies for key waterfront districts and potential harbor barrier options. Each study was developed by a multi-disciplinary team of engineers, planners, designers, and economists, drawing upon the best available scientific predictions of the Boston Research Advisory Group (BRAG). Read the studies.

The GRC district resiliency studies began with two of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, East Boston and Charlestown. A similar study for South Boston will be released shortly and presented at our own fall forum. The studies identify key flood pathways, examine planning and design options, and analyze the feasibility, benefits, and costs of the options. For East Boston and Charlestown, the studies show the effectiveness of “green” solutions. New and expanded urban parks at key locations can incorporate landscaped berms to protect against floods, while providing valuable new open space for the communities.

The district reports also underscore the cost effectiveness of investing in resiliency. The total near- and long-term costs of protecting East Boston and Charlestown is estimated to total between $154 million and $262 million. But the benefits, measured in terms of avoided property damage and loss of life, far outweigh the costs, at positive ratios ranging from 3.5 to 5.9. In short, every dollar spent on resiliency pays for itself up to six times over!

Lessons from the harbor-wide barriers study.

In May 2018, the GRC issued its report on the feasibility of harbor-wide barrier systems, prepared by a team led by the UMass Boston Sustainable Solutions Lab. The team focused on two options: an Outer Harbor barrier from Winthrop to Hull, and an Inner Harbor barrier between Logan Airport and the South Boston Seaport. Each would be a gated barrier system, which would only be closed during storm surges. (The team also considered a Metro Boston dike barrier, which would extend up to 10 miles seaward of Boston Harbor, but found that it did not meet baseline goals.)

The report found that neither of the studied options for a harbor barriers system appeared to be cost-effective. The benefit: cost ratios in most cases were less than 1.0 – that is, the costs would outweigh the benefits.

The harbor barriers study showed that building-scale and district-scale systems would provide flood management more quickly at a lower cost, and provide more flexibility in adapting and responding to changing conditions, technological innovations, and new information about global sea level rise.

Other key advantages for district-scale measures include:

  • Community co-benefits, such as parkland, transportation infrastructure, and additional developable land.
  • Protection against tidal floodingas well as surge flooding.
  • Much lower negative impacts on the regional ecology and economy

For these reasons, the team recommended that Boston continue to focus its climate resilience strategy on the multi-layered approach described in Climate Ready Boston, with immediate emphasis on building-scale and district-scale measures.

Retrofitting existing buildings

Since we live in such an historic area, most of the buildings in Boston that need to be prepared for climate change in this century are already standing. Recognizing this, the BPDA is working to create resiliency design guidelines for neighborhoods that are vulnerable to flooding for both existing homes and new ones. The BSA is proud to be assisting with this endeavor along with A Better City, and Boston Harbor Now. BSA members can play a key role in helping building owners address the design and technical challenges of adapting existing buildings to the risks of coastal flooding, stormwater, and extreme heat, as well as reducing their consumption of fossil fuels.

Redesigning Boston for climate change will be an ongoing challenge facing all BSA/AIA members for the coming years and decades

The challenges and the costs will be high; but the costs of inaction are even greater. As the GRC district resiliency studies show, investing in resiliency pays for itself many times over.

As we plan and design for the risks of flooding and sea-level rise, we need to build on everything we have learned about how to make a vibrant and just city. We need to find solutions that strengthen our connection to the harbor–not to wall ourselves off. And we need to protect the most vulnerable communities; we can’t permit the threat of climate change to widen the gaps between rich and poor.