‘Living With Water’: Facing Climate Change, Cities Trade Sea Walls For Parks

Sourced from the Huffington Post

To protect itself from a devastating flood, Boston was considering building a massive sea wall, cutting north to south through nearly 4 miles of Boston Harbor, taking $11 billion and at least 30 years to build. But a new plan unveiled in October represents a 180-degree turn: Instead of fighting to keep the water out, the city is letting it come in.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, a Democrat, announced the city would be scrapping the idea of a sea wall in favor of, among other things, a system of waterfront parks and elevation of some flood-prone areas. The city will add 67 new acres of green space along the water and restore 122 tidal acres.

The idea is to give people access to the shoreline when the weather is nice, but when the parks get flooded — well, it’s not that big of a deal.

As climate change forces cities to grapple with rising sea levels and increasingly powerful storms, coastal cities must prepare for a heightened likelihood of flooding, whether tidal flooding from rising sea levels or a hurricane that could dump inches of rain in a short period of time.

For the last hundred years, protecting neighborhoods has often meant relying on sea walls — large, concrete barriers designed to withstand strong waves and rising waters. Beyond not being particularly attractive, they are expensive, can cause erosion and harm marine life.

City planners now say they are increasingly turning to methods aligned with the Dutch concept of “living with water.” Instead of resisting water, cities are channeling it to where they want it to go. Boston’s reimagined waterfront would be designed to handle at least 21 inches of sea-level rise, which the city anticipates by 2050.

“Besides taking decades to complete, a barrier would bring its own set of serious ecological issues,” Walsh recently told a crowd at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. “Shoreline projects are more feasible and more effective ways to increase our city’s resilience. … This is our vision of a resilient Boston. It’s a system not of barricades but of beaches — and parks and trails and open spaces.”

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