Boston, Massachusetts recently announced specific infrastructure projects and policies that must be implemented for the low-laying, water-surrounded city to adjust to expected sea level rise in the coming decades. A comprehensive report outlines short-term and long-term solutions in hopes of protecting communities from what is expected to be a three-foot sea level rise by 2070. “Climate change is here. It’s happening now,” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. “It’s more important than ever that we work together to make sure our city is ready for the changes ahead.” Two potential measures outlined in the report include raising a section of Main Street in Charlestown and building a seawall in East Boston, both of which are in neighborhoods that have experienced increasingly frequent and severe flooding in recent years.
Founded in 1630, Boston, the only state capital in the contiguous United States located on the ocean, was built to take advantage of its marine location. Boston Harbor’s depth and relatively protected location thanks to dozens of harbor islands helped Boston to become a major port city in the British Colonies and later the early United States. As the city grew in population, landfill taken from nearby hills was used to cover the marshland surrounding the narrow peninsula and create new land, including the Back Bay neighborhood. Although Boston has tackled environmental challenges in the past, including a massive late 20th century clean-up of the harbor and nearby rivers, sea level rise of up to three feet in only 50 years time represents an unprecedented threat.
If Main Street in Charlestown, historically a working-class community and now one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods, were to be elevated, it would cost at least $2-3 million. This project would block all but the most extreme storm surges from flooding the area, protecting 250 residents and 60 businesses. In total, the mitigation projects for Charlestown alone could cost up to $62 million, though the report estimates that they would offer $201 million in economic benefits. In contrast, a retractable seawall in East Boston would protect 4,300 residents, at least 70 businesses, and cost only $100,000. Although not included in the recent report, Boston is also considering a massive sea wall across Boston Harbor to protect the entire city against rising sea levels. Will other cities follow suit?