How We Are Addressing Climate Change in Boston

November 2, 2018
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This year is shaping up to be one of the strongest years in Boston’s history. We’ve continued to add 20,000 new jobs each year, and we’ve brought unemployment down below 4 percent. And perhaps most importantly, we’ve made a plan to ensure that the benefits of Boston’s booming economy are enjoyed by everyone who calls this city home. We’re making record investments in affordable housing, sidewalks and bike lanes, community policing, libraries, and schools. Through our BuildBPS plan, we are making bold investments in our educational infrastructure, so that every school has the resources to provide a comprehensive, 21st century education for Boston’s young people.

I am proud of the progress that Boston has made this year in so many areas, but there is one area of concern which impacts our future more than any other: climate change. It’s an urgent priority, and one which Boston must take aggressive steps to address if we hope to continue down this path towards a more prosperous, equitable, and resilient society.

The science is clear: climate change has given us hotter and more volatile weather; it has amplified the frequency and impact of severe storms; and it has increased the rate of sea level rise. Just look at what other cities have faced. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy inflicted $70 billion worth of damage and caused the deaths of 71 people. It brought Lower Manhattan’s financial sector to a standstill. Last year, Hurricane Harvey caused $125 billion of damage and 68 deaths in Houston and Southeast Texas. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and caused over 3,000 people to lose their lives. These disasters, which uprooted so many lives, stand as dire warnings of what could follow a failure to act. But I have faith that with a plan, and the partnership of our Boston community, it is a challenge we are capable of overcoming.

That’s what we’ve set in motion with our “Resilient Boston Harbor” vision. It’s a roadmap for how we’ll protect the City’s residents, homes, jobs, and infrastructure against the impacts of rising sea level and climate change. It lays out strategies along Boston’s 47-mile shoreline that will increase access and open space along the waterfront while better protecting the city during a major flooding event.

Resilient Boston Harbor builds on Imagine Boston 2030 and uses the City’s Climate Ready Boston 2070 flood maps and coastal resilience neighborhood studies to focus on Boston’s most vulnerable flood pathways. The strategies laid out in the plan include elevated landscapes, enhanced waterfront parks, flood resilient buildings, and revitalized and increased connections and access to the waterfront. The strategies will require collaboration and funding between federal, state, private, philanthropic and nonprofit partners.

We must anticipate consequences generations down the road, and work proactively to counteract them. With the help of experts and our communities, we have tailored plans specific to the unique condition in each of Boston’s neighborhoods, and at each point along our city’s coastline.

The solution comes not in the form of flood walls and barricades, but a system of beaches, parks, trails, and open spaces. The system will bring 67 new acres of open space to our city, and adapt 122 acres of idle space along Boston Harbor, connecting the existing Emerald Necklace with a revitalized waterfront, and bringing our city closer together. By prioritizing green space over concrete barriers, we are ensuring that our investment in a more resilient city doubles as an investment in public health, access to green space, and the ecological preservation of our city and Boston Harbor. By investing proactively, we will preserve and strengthen the character of our coastline, something that has contributed so much to our success as a city.

The impact of these improvements will touch every part of our city, through the creation of new green spaces, and the resilient renovation of existing ones. Moving forward, the City of Boston will dedicate 10 percent of all new capital spending to resilience projects. We will harness the power of public-private coalitions, philanthropy, and partnerships with neighboring communities, because meeting such ambitious goals requires us all to contribute.

Our city can’t counter the impact of climate change on our own, and this plan represents the first steps towards addressing a problem that will not disappear anytime soon. But the Boston we know is built on a legacy of bold leadership. The Boston we know is built on promises of a better future. Getting there has not always been easy, and it won’t be easy now. But our city sparked the uprising which became the American Revolution. We built the first public schools in this nation. Our hospitals revolutionized health care. We filled the Back Bay. We built the Emerald Necklace. We cleaned up our harbor.

History shows that when Boston speaks up and steps up, the nation listens. When we harness the power of our communities to come together for a greater cause, the nation follows.

I know we can do it again.

For more information on Resilient Boston Harbor, please visit: boston.gov/climateready.

Martin J. Walsh is the Mayor of Boston.