As Boston continues to see a historic development boom, the warming climate is contributing to rising sea levels and sounding the alarm for coastal cities around the globe to take action. Considering that many of the city’s beloved neighborhoods are reclaimed land such as Back Bay, and the proximity of emerging areas to the harbor like the Seaport District, it is not only scientists who are taking notice. The city of Boston is full steam ahead in research, development, and protecting at-risk areas.
In August 2013, the World Bank and OECD named Boston eighth in a ranking of coastal cities in regards to the overall cost of potential damage due to rising sea levels. It is estimated that around 90,000 residents could be affected, resulting in $80 billion in real estate losses. Numbers like this are a call to action for city officials, area scientists, and engineers who are not hesitating anymore in working toward preventing Boston’s wet and costly fate.
Wake up calls are becoming more frequent, and although tides are a familiar phenomenon for seaside towns, this summer the King Tide, an annual occurrence, returned with a vengeance. Long Wharf in the North End became somewhat of a tourist attraction as water reached places most have never seen it before. To prevent this, and worse from happening, the city has released a report called Climate Ready Boston. It includes climate projections, vulnerability assessments, and a tentative outline and timeline of actions that should be taken.
The most popular solution includes a large four-mile barrier that would stretch between Deer Island and the Hull peninsula, potentially costing in the tens of billions of dollars and rivaling the Big Dig in complexity, time, and cost. However, if the barrier is not built, the environmental consulting team advising researchers at UMass Boston estimate the cost in water damage could average $1.4 billion per year.
While the complexity and scale of a project like this is unprecedented for Boston, success stories from the Netherlands to the Maldives prove that it is possible and cost-effective in the long run. Considering Boston has tamed its waters in the past to form neighborhoods we now call home, the future bodes well for Beantown.