For seven-year-old Ellen Anna Sosa, the best thing about living in South Boston’s Mary Ellen McCormack public housing development is that it’s right across the street from Joe Moakley Park. “I go on the swings a lot and I like to bike ride,” she said.
Just beyond that park and across another road is Carson Beach. Her mother, Shirley Sosa, said you can’t see the water from their apartment. “But as soon as you walk out the door you smell the ocean, even if you're on the balcony, you can smell the ocean," she said. "It's like you know, summer in the air, or spring is in the air.”
But, of course, if you have close access to the water, the potential drawback is that water could access you. Already, the road between the beach and the park, Day Boulevard, tends to flood during storms.
“I always said to myself, 'Well, we live on the third floor so [if] something's happening, we'll have time to run,’" Sosa said. "But in all seriousness, that is definitely a concern.”
The city’s concerned about flooding, too. There are nearly 1,500 public housing apartments in the McCormack and Old Colony developments. And Moakley Park — sitting between the water and all those homes — provides a huge opportunity for the city to plan ahead and prevent flooding.
“It's 60 acres, and as we're looking out across it today, it's covered in snow,” said Allison Perlman, the city’s project manager for the Moakley Park Vision Plan, as she stood in the middle of the park on a cold morning. “It's relatively flat low-lying open space that mostly consists of fields, in terms of baseball. And we have some multi-use fields that are used for soccer and lacrosse.”
“Moakley is uniquely poised to play a major role in part of a resilient strategy for South Boston,” said the city’s parks commissioner, Christopher Cook.
The firm chosen to develop that strategy for Moakley is Stoss Landscape Urbanism, whose office is just up the road from the park. The firm’s founding director, Chris Reed, said the area closest to the water could be designed to be flooded.
“We would have vegetation that could sustain inundation from salt water, and it would be designed as a really beautiful coastal marsh feature,” he said.
Also, Reed said an important part of the redesign will likely be to build up what is now a totally flat park. “Essentially, create a series of earthen dams that would protect the city, but you would never recognize them as earthen dams because they’re simply incorporated into the topography and planting of the park,” he said.
Amy Whitesides, the firm’s manager of the Moakley project, brought up a map of South Boston on a computer screen and pointed out the city’s projection for how the area is likely to flood in the future. Right now, the real risk is in the area south of the park.
“Then, once we start ... getting into the 2030 timeframe in this model, Moakley itself starts to flood, and you start to get a bit more water moving back into the Mary McCormack community," Whitesides said. "And then even further along in 2070, you start to see flooding actually kind of connecting up between water coming in from the Fort Point area.”
At that point, much of Roxbury, the South End and the low-lying parts of South Boston could be underwater during storms.
Of course, there’s only so much that changes to Moakley Park can do to prevent that widescale flooding. So Reed said the Moakley Park Vision Plan isn’t stopping at the borders of the park. “There are private landowners here that have a stake in this and they have a stake in it not just because their site floods but because that becomes an entryway to flood other sites in other neighborhoods,” he said.
Reed said as the plan gets going, they’ll be reaching out to those landowners and trying to get them on board with steps to block all that water from flooding the city.
This spring they plan to launch a public engagement program, to ask people living in the community what they’d like to see in a redesigned Moakley Park.