This is what happens when you shed the block of climate denial and sprint ahead: You discover that climate change isn’t solely a world-crushing Galactus bent on our obliteration, but an opportunity to respond with our best selves and transform our cities into something more awesome and sustainable.
The Left Coast’s biggest ally in national affairs is Yankeedom, and in Boston they just did something revolutionary: Accepted the elevated sea levels predicted by climate models in the year 2100 and—assuming those predictions are correct—issued a challenge (with a $20,000 prize) to redesign the city accordingly.
The designs have been winnowed down to nine finalists, and guess what? Every design embraces sea level rise as an opportunity to enhance and improve the city.
Here’s a look at our favorites—keep a sharp eye out for things that just make sense, regardless of climate change.
Hydrokinetic Canal: Urban generator.
Design led by Paul Lukez Architecture (Somerville, MA).
- A new system of waterways to increase Columbia Point’s resilience to climate change, generate sustainable energy, and provide an expanded, improved public realm. A Hydrokinetic Canal is this urban plan’s centerpiece.
- Turbines are strategically located to capture the flow of water as an energy-generating force as water levels change throughout the day, as well as when wicked storms enter Boston Harbor. Located 15 feet below a realigned Morrissey Boulevard, the new canal basin features walkways, paths, bridges, and other public amenities, creating a rich environment for recreation.
- Gates and sluices along the canal and between the basins regulate water levels between each basin until optimum equilibrium is found. After floods, water is pumped up to higher levels using energy stored from the hydrokinetic turbines. These basins otherwise support urban agriculture, native cordgrass, and local edible saltmarsh plants: glasswort, sea blite, beach plum, wild rice, etc. Community gardens occupy the higher levels of the basin’s terraced topography while native species dominate lower levels (up to 30 feet deep).
- “Floating Architecture” can be tethered to the new harbor’s marina-like fingers.
Bountiful Delta: It’s not just resilient.
Design led by University of Washington (Seattle, WA).
- New islands help to buffer the development from storm surges and also provide habitat for marine life.
- Bringing the water into the neighborhood, rather than holding it out, would cool the neighborhood during heat waves.
- Raising the ground level so that the first floor is above wicked high tide may be too pricey. Instead, the first floor of each building can be sealed off from the other floors.
- First floor greenhouses and community gardens may switch from farming vegetables to farming fish.
- Developers would be encouraged to add affordable housing by allowing them to build higher if they do.
Resilient Linkages: Adaptive waterfront.
Design led by NBBJ (global firm with offices in SF and Seattle).
- Street-facing sides of a building must incorporate a specific structural canopy system which will be linked by the City to adjacent buildings via a wicked elevated roadway and utility network.
- Allow for ground-level inundation: the floodable lower floors are returned to developers in the form of an additional height allowance above the current 180′ limit.
- Elevated Infrastructure: Anticipate a future where South Boston’s major roadways and utilities in the District are elevated to the level of Summer Street and the BCEC.
- Phased Transformation: Incentivize new buildings that feature a plaza level at the Summer Street/BCEC level that can be transformed into the future open space network.
Water Fund: Future underwater neighborhood.
Design led by ARC (Cambridge, MA).
- A new kind of urban neighborhood that skillfully interacts with an influx of water on an on-going basis.
- The first stage of adaptation involves the construction of buffers in the form of aquaculture, wetlands and parks between the former wharfs, and the creation of new docks and boat moorings further offshore.
- A second stage, whereby the ground plane is elevated and extended out over the harbor, creates a unique opportunity for visitors to interact with the marine environment—a boon for tourism.
- By 2050, the buffer zone has become a marsh devoted to biofuel production, with a research and education center that continues to draw visitors. Several former streets, now fully converted to canals, offer wicked boat rides and waterfront dining. The Prince Building, a central landmark in the neighborhood, has converted its below grade floors to fish hatcheries and created an open terrace at base flood elevation.
- Serves as an example of how wicked careful foresight and skillful implementation can preserve and even enhance the quality of a unique urban neighborhood.
As Naomi Klein says, This Changes Everything. Ultimately, for the better?