Two years ago Boston got lucky, and New York didn’t. But ever since, local officials have said if Hurricane Sandy had hit Boston, we wouldn’t have been ready. Some hope that begins to change today.
“Today we’re kicking off Boston’s living with water design competition. It’s a call for designers across the globe to envision a vibrant and resilient Boston. That’s because I believe climate change is not a burden we take on, but an opportunity we embrace.”
With Mayor Marty Walsh’s announcement, Boston is taking a page out of a playbook New York wrote on the fly. That city held a design competition while rebuilding, using it to bring in international help and the smartest minds to plan new construction that could withstand Sandy-sized attacks. A handful of projects were funded to the tune of almost a billion dollars.
Boston’s design competition is more modest – there’s no guarantee, or money set aside now, to build the projects that win the competition. And there’s at least one other big difference.
“We have time," said John Dalzell of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
And with time, Dalzell said Boston can adapt in a beautiful way to the encroaching waters experts say will cover much of the city within the next few centuries.
“We have, for a long time, as we’ve gotten used to climate change, viewed this as a problem. But I think we’re also turning this critical corner where it’s not just a reaction to a storm. It’s really how do we see this as an opportunity?”
The competition is funded by state and private grants and focuses on three sites that are ripe for redevelopment. Julie Wormser of the Boston Harbor Association says organizers chose those sites because they’re already affected by climate change.
The first is a condo building and former spaghetti factory in the north end, across Atlantic Avenue from the harbor.
“Come the turn of the century they’re going to be dealing with a couple of feet of water every full moon tide.”
The second is the 100-acre site in south Boston, on Fort Point Channel.
“That’s an area that already floods with extra high tides.”
The final site is Morrissey Boulevard, the six-lane divided coastal road in Dorchester.
“Shouldn’t be a surprise to you that it floods almost monthly at this point. There’s actually a special traffic sign that goes up that says ‘wicked high tide.”
The best overall proposal wins $20,000. But Gretchen Schneider of the Boston Society of Architects says money isn’t what really interests competitors.
“Designers are – architects are – optimists. And we have the opportunity to imagine a world that others can’t yet see. And a competition gives us an opportunity to explore that.”
The contest will end with an awards ceremony in June. Brian Swett, Boston’s chief of environment, energy and open space, says it may one day be seen as a historic moment.
“When we look back at the results of this design competition we could very well find that this is a milestone in Boston’s progress in becoming a world-class climate prepared city for the next 100 years.”
Swett hopes the competition will be a turning point where Boston stops thinking of living with rising water as a far-off concept, and starts to prepare for it as a reality.