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Boston: Designing for the Rising Tide

Find a description of this featured project funded through the Coastal Resilience Grant Program administered by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).

The Coastal Resilience Grant Program provides funding and technical assistance to municipalities and nonprofits to advance innovative local efforts to address coastal flooding, erosion, and sea level rise impacts through communication and public outreach initiatives, vulnerability assessments, planning activities, engineering projects, and natural storm damage protection.

The summary below describes a featured Coastal Resilience Grant project to highlight the range of projects eligible for funding and to demonstrate some of the lessons learned through project implementationCoastal Resilience Grant Program - Featured Projects provides links to additional examples.

Project Summary

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, the City of Boston received a grant to fund a design competition focused on adapting buildings, infrastructure, and neighborhoods to sea level rise:

  • Project Category: Education and Communication
  • Summary: The city hosted a design competition to adapt three sites in Boston—the Prince building in the North End, the 100 Acres area of the Fort Point District, and Morrissey Boulevard—that are vulnerable to flooding from sea level rise and more extreme storm events. The project helped increase public understanding and awareness on the challenges and opportunities for adapting these assets to rising waters over the next 40 years.
Summary of Project Funding

FY14 Grant Award: $86,000

Total Match: $35,000 (29% of total project cost)

Community Overview

Over the last four centuries, wetlands and tidal areas in Boston have been filled for development—and today, much of the city’s waterfront is built on these filled tidelands. While the 34 Boston Harbor Islands and the peninsulas of Winthrop and Hull provide Boston some protection from oncoming storm waves, coastal flooding and the potential for significant sea level rise by the end of the century pose a major climate change adaptation challenge for the city’s valuable public and private development, neighborhoods, and critical infrastructure.

Project Goals

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) requires new development projects to take climate change into account as part of the environmental analyses and project design. However, the city is faced with the challenge of how to increase the climate preparedness of existing structures while maintaining and enhancing livability and economic and cultural vibrancy. The BPDA (formerly the Boston Redevelopment Authority) proposed a design competition for designers, building and landscape architects, planners, state and local officials, and private citizens to advance climate preparedness in Boston and other urban coastal cities.

The specific goal of Boston’s project was to identify innovative design and architectural concepts to adapt buildings, neighborhoods, and infrastructure to rising sea levels and inspire further communication and forward-thinking action among public and private stakeholders to address future climate risks.

Approach and Results

The BPDA held a design competition for three sites of varying scale—the Prince building in the North End, the 100 Acres area of the Fort Point District, and Morrissey Boulevard—that are vulnerable to increased flooding and sea level rise in the next 40 years. The team recruited a panel of five local and international architects and designers with significant expertise in climate resilience to serve as judges. Over 50 teams submitted designs, which were evaluated on their capacity to:

  • Adapt to increased annual and daily temperatures, extreme heat waves, and increased precipitation and storm severity
  • Adapt to a continuously changing environment and incremental sea level rise
  • Retain and support cultural and social identity, ensure equitable economic opportunity and prosperity, and provide for ongoing community engagement
  • Enhance the resilience of energy and environmental resources, water and wastewater infrastructure, and transportation systems, and ensure access to local and affordable food

Submissions were further evaluated based on their responsiveness to additional site-specific challenges, as well as meeting the goals of innovation and creativity, beauty and replicability, resiliency and sustainability, and implementation and financial feasibility. Finalists were honored at an awards ceremony and the top designs in each category received a $13,000 cash prize. Visit Boston Living with Water to learn more about the competition and view project submissions.

Lessons Learned

Effective partnerships with the BPDA, Boston Environment Department, Boston Harbor Now (formerly The Boston Harbor Association), and Boston Society of Architects were key to the success of the design competition. Leveraging broad staff expertise and in-kind resources enabled the project to reach and resonate with a large, diverse audience. The project team developed a website to showcase design submissions and promote public events, organized a series of evening lectures to discuss relevant climate change issues, and engaged various media outlets to spread project news and accomplishments.

Project Success

The design competition helped galvanize public interest and support for proactively addressing future climate vulnerabilities. Building on this momentum, the city initiated a comprehensive climate change planning process, Climate Ready Boston. The city was awarded a 2016 Coastal Resilience Grant to develop climate projections, conduct a thorough, city-wide vulnerability assessment, and prepare preliminary resilience recommendations for priority locations. In 2017, the city received another Coastal Resilience Grant to advance the preliminary recommendations developed for two priority areas—Charlestown and East Boston—to a conceptual design. The city continues to advance climate resilience planning efforts in these communities and other vulnerable neighborhoods in Boston. Reports and progress updates are available on Climate Ready Boston website.

Partners and Other Support

The project was managed by the BPDA in partnership with the Boston Environment Department, Boston Harbor Now, and the Boston Society of Architects. CZM and the Barr Foundation funded the project and participated in project-related workshops and preliminary review stages of design submissions.

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