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News & Updates

How the BPDA is preparing for climate change

Mar 28, 2018

On Monday, March 26, Rich McGuinness, Deputy Director for Climate Change and Environmental Planning, part of a new team focused on climate change at the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA), testified before the Boston City Council at a hearing to discuss the City’s preparations for flooding caused by the impacts of climate change on Boston’s waterfront.

The hearing, available to view here, was a follow-up to the unprecedented flooding Boston experienced during two storm events in early 2018.  Thankfully there was little damage caused by the storms and the flooding occurred within current Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood plains.  The storms, however, were a chilling reminder of Boston’s vulnerability to winter coastal storms. At the hearing, Rich,, joined City of Boston Environment Department staff to outline measures the City is taking to address Boston’s current and future challenges:

  • As a result of Mayor Walsh prioritizing climate resiliency, the sense of urgency to address these critical issues across each city agency is at high. In less than a year,  climate resiliency has become central to all of Boston’s major planning
    efforts, include Imagine Boston 2030, the first citywide plan in over 50 years.
  • Mayor Walsh launched Climate Ready Boston to ensure that Boston continues to grow and prosper in the face of climate change. We are now focusing Climate Ready South Boston, which is allowing us to better understand current and future flood risk in South Boston, and develop strategies to protect the neighborhood.  Strategies are already underway in other neighborhoods to improve infrastructure, like adding a deployable flood wall along the East Boston Greenway and elevating a section of Main Street in Charlestown to prevent future flooding.
  • Last fall, the BPDA updated Boston Zoning Code Articles 25 and 37 so that projects must demonstrate resilience to sea level rise and other impacts of climate change. For the first time, projects are now thoroughly analyzed for sea level rise risks by the City’s Interagency Green Building Committee.
  • We are working closely with developers to ensure that projects in vulnerable neighborhoods are designed with resiliency at the forefront. Suffolk Downs is proposing elevating their project site 40 inches to address sea level rise.  GE is retrofitting a historic Wharf building to be protected from a 500 year storm event. Seaport Square’s new building will be designed to be resilient to 40 inches of sea level rise. And those are only a few examples.
  • Disposition of city properties now require proposals to plan and design for climate change.
  • We are seeing this work pay off. In 2017, Massachusetts ranked first nationally for new Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) buildings, with the majority of the 6.5 million square feet located in Boston.
  • The planning initiatives underway on the Downtown Waterfront, Dudley Square in Roxbury, Glover’s Corner in Dorchester, Dorchester Avenue in South Boston and the Washington Street corridor in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury are addressing climate change.  
  • Our actions and strategies in our neighborhoods and across the City as a whole are guided by the most accurate modeling available. The City of Boston has made deliberate steps to understand more about our vulnerability to flooding, coastal storms and sea-level rise. In 2014, the City appealed the Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) for Boston based on an independent analysis. Our appeal was based on significant errors and inconsistencies in FEMA’s mapping and flood study approach.  We also used the appeal period as an opportunity to conduct more detailed and accurate hydrodynamic flood modeling of Boston Harbor. The City prevailed in the FEMA appeal process and today benefits from accurate flood modelling and mapping.
  • Eversource just recently completed a new substation in the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park. The $131 million substation is on a 25,000-square-foot concrete and steel platform that’s built 15 feet above the ground, to withstand the worst storms and tidal surges. To support the platform, nearly 500 pilings were drilled as deep as 80 feet into the ground.
  • Recent observations confirm that new buildings are resilient to the the coastal impacts of sea level rise, and our greatest vulnerabilities are Boston’s older buildings. We value our historic building and authentic urban scale. Now, we need to determine how to adapt and retrofit these architectural assets so they continue to serve Boston for generations to come.
  • Today, we are reviewing zoning mechanisms to address new growth and existing building retrofit in vulnerable neighborhoods and implement district scale solutions.  Most likely, we will be implementing an overlay district for areas vulnerable to 40 inches of sea level rise.
  • The good news is that Boston has successfully tackled complex environmental challenges in the past. We responded to flooding risks posed by  devastating hurricanes in the 1950s and worked together to clean-up Boston Harbor through district scale engineering solutions. Today, Boston stands deeply commiting to addressing our current and future challenges.

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