The Urban Implications of Living With Water, a recent report by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Boston, opens with the clear assertion: "We are beginning to feel the effects of climate change." The result of a conversation amongst over seventy experts from the fields of architecture, engineering, public policy, real estate and more, the report covers the proposed integrated solutions for a future of living in a city that proactively meets the challenges accompanying rising water levels.
"We accept that the seas are rising, the weather is changing, and our communities are at risk; and we recognize that no solution can be all-encompassing. It is our hope that this report will spark conversation, shift our understanding of what is possible, and aid us in reframing challenges into opportunities as we move toward this new era of development."
Become part of the discussion and read more about the collective ideas, after the break.
Although the project seeks to create a universally applicable conversation, the experts at the ULI conference focused specifically on Boston. Since Hurricane Sandy whipped through the Northeast in 2012, the cities of the region, notably Boston and Cambridge, have taken serious measures to prepare for a future of extreme weather conditions. In addition to revising emergency response procedures, there has been a concerted effort to invite interdisciplinary involvement in policy changes regarding the imminent effects of climate change, particularly on urban infrastructure, businesses, and local populations.
As previous methods of predicting future climate disasters have proven inaccurate, the experts suggest implementing systems designed to anticipate a higher frequency of water-related issues. The proposed systems are based on the context of four specific sites in the Boston area, each representing a unique typology: the Innovation District, Black Bay, Revere Beach and the Alewife Quadrangle.
The Innovation District presents an opportunity to address the challenges at an intersection of a dense urban fabric with the rising tides of the waterfront, while Black Bay illustrates the issues of valuable real estate built atop marshland only four feet above high tide. In the northeastern part of the city, Revere Beach is a 10 acre stretch of underdeveloped coastline prone to flooding and full of potential for transformative development. The last site, in the western Cambridge, is the Alewife Quadrangle, a 130 acre tract of light industrialization that lays mostly in the 500 year flood plain.
Throughout the process, the ULI Boston team identified a few common themes through which design solutions were generated, including dynamic planning models, new visions for urban design, and development incentives and opportunities. More specifically, the dynamic planning models focus on creating adaptive systems and networks designed to evolve over time and respond to a wide range of water-related issues. The master plan for the Innovation District, for example, addresses rising sea levels and increasingly frequent storm surges by redesigning the Harborwalk as a type of occupiable seawall that provides dual protection and recreation services, which can be adjusted every decade to meet a new set of conditions.
Several challenges and obstacles swiftly became evident. Timing, for example, is a serious issue. With such a rapidly increasing rate of climate change, proposed solutions are time sensitive. As the report warns, "Designers need to plan for a dynamic climate where sea level will persist for a long time, with uncertainty about the rate and extent of change but with certainty that the sea will rise several feet at least."
The problems of addressing climate change are further complicated by the fact that private individuals cannot undertake solutions alone. Water, after all, doesn't discriminate about property lines. There must be a coordinated, systematized network of solutions, embedded into all layers of society from public policy and city ordinances and individual residential choices. Furthermore, the team identified the bureaucratic obstacles of policy and regulatory limitations. How do we adapt existing organizations for a radically new future of climate resilience? It is vital, ULI agrees, to "shift the paradigm and plan for a future where change, and water, is the new normal."
The grimness of a purported future has pushed for the generation of exciting and innovative ideas. The ULI Boston team has adopted an optimistic attitude of seeing rising sea levels as an opportunity to improve the city's relationship with its environment. They stressed the importance of taking advantage of existing opportunities and planning for a future that seeks to enhance biodiversity, design ecologically sensitive infrastructure, develop strong multidisciplinary partnerships, and intelligently allocating resources for maximum effectiveness.
The underlying theme of the report is the importance of conversation and inclusiveness. Addressing climate change is a global initiative, and above all, the ULI Boston team stresses the value of teamwork and discussion from all spheres of society. To learn more, read The Urban Implications of Living With Water report, here.