Manifest Boston Stories

Banding Together Against Climate Change

Written by Lindsay Gearheart | Apr 15, 2020 1:52:05 PM

In the fight against climate change, collaboration is Boston's strongest barricade.

With the issue already at our doorstep, it's time to tackle the problems climate change poses, like flooding, rising temperatures, and disrupted wildlife habitats, in earnest. Despite all that is worrisome about climate change, there are reasons to feel hopeful. Individuals and organizations across our city are stepping up in a big way. And often, they're doing so as a team.

Setting the tone from the top

Our local government officials have proven they're committed to action. The City of Boston's resilience planning is captured in the Climate Ready Boston report and 2019 Climate Action Report. Mayor Marty Walsh and Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space Christopher Cook have set ambitious goals for cutting carbon emissions and preparing our communities for the impacts of climate change. They've also played a major role in convening property owners along and behind the water’s edge to discuss how we can take on rising seas. 

"Moving to carbon neutrality is an opportunity to advance Boston's status as a national climate leader and global hub of innovation while creating a cleaner, healthier, more equitable Boston for all," said John Cleveland, Executive Director, Boston Green Ribbon Commission. "...We can reach our goal by 2050, but only through a coordinated and concerted effort among the public and private sectors - and we have to start now."

Advocating for Boston's land and sea

Boston's nonprofits and community groups regularly work in partnership with each other and the government to maintain, improve, and prepare Boston's environment. "We don’t do anything alone," said Kathy Abbott, President and CEO of Boston Harbor Now, in a recent interview. The organization connects and works across sectors to enhance access to publicly-owned lands along the waterfront and to improve the resiliency of the properties.

"What we are doing specifically is working on several major projects around the harbor to try to, a) Make inroads into solutions to protect our shores from sea level rises and storms, and b) Find areas that can be developed to both enhance access and resiliency as models for what’s possible," said Abbott.

One of those areas is Moakley Park in South Boston. There are about 100 acres of public open space between the park and Carson Beach, but it’s low and flat, and in an area prone to flooding. Abbott says it's an opportunity to demonstrate how Boston can build up an area to withstand the impacts of climate change while improving recreational amenities that will attract visitors. 

Building up and across Boston

On the other side of South Boston sits the Seaport, home to our annual HubWeek Fall Festival. Private sector organizations there are also united in the fight against climate change. 

"We’re trying to think about it not just on a building-by-building basis, but also on a district-wide basis," said Yanni Tsipis, Senior Vice President, WS Development. As one of the major development companies in Seaport, WS is designing buildings, streets, and parks in the neighborhood with rising tides in mind.

A new building's ground floor is now raised up three to five feet higher than it would have been traditionally built years ago, says Tsipis. Where critical building system equipment was once kept in a garage, it's now stored on the second or third floors instead. Seaport Boulevard's medians, which used to be flat concrete, are now softer so they retain more rainwater, and have a berm (a hump) to them that provides a barrier to floodwaters coming from the north.

Plans for a new public park in Seaport, called Harbor Square Park, will put the park at an elevation of 20-21 Boston City Base (BCB), about five feet higher than highest tide ever recorded in Boston. This will set a high ground floor elevation for the four buildings that will surround it. Public, pedestrian promenade Harbor Way will also be lifted up a few feet to act as a high spine and prevent flood waters from moving east.

All in this together

Rising water threatens to upend life for people in neighborhoods across our city in a matter of years. Creating a resilient, climate-ready Boston isn't the job of only the Mayor and climate-focused organizations — the responsibility falls to all of us to make the changes we want to see come to life. 

By working together, we have the power to protect our most vulnerable residents and preserve our city. 

"All it needs is one weak link. It has to be collaboration, because at the end of the day, that barrier has to be continuous. Otherwise, it won’t work," said Tsipis.