Architects, urban planners, designers, climate change advocates, and policymakers got a unique glimpse into what a more resilient and sustainable Boston might look like in the face of sea level rise last night. One proposal envisions a sort of Boston Common in the Fort Point Channel that visitors would explore via canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards. Another imagines elevating a section of Morrissey Boulevard and creating a living laboratory with marsh, aquatic grasses, and shellfish beds underneath. Others contemplate the potential for “water days” in the not-so-distant future where the city is challenged by frequent flooding.
These proposals were among the dozens of submissions entered in the ongoing Boston Living with Water competition, an initiative launched by the City of Boston, The Boston Harbor Association, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), and the Boston Society of Architects last October to encourage planning for end-of-the-century climate conditions and rising sea levels. 50 teams composed of almost 350 individuals from eight different countries submitted concepts. While the entries showcase an impressive range of potential climate change solutions, they have one thing in common. They all embrace sea level rise as an opportunity to enhance, rather than detract from, Boston’s built environment.
The jury whittled dozens of submissions down to three finalists per site–Prince Building in the North End, Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester, and the 100-acre neighborhood of Fort Point. These teams will move on to compete for a $20,000 grand prize, funded by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and the Barr Foundation. Here are the finalists:
“The Prince Building Piers” – Rather than trying to prevent seawater from entering the city, this proposal welcomes the water and surrenders the outer streetscapes to a new urban seashore that is a focus of recreation, ecological reclamation, and new cultural experiences.
“Water FUN(d)” – Dubbed the Future Underwater Neighborhood district, or FUN(d), this proposal establishes a goal of creating a new urban area that skillfully interacts with an influx of water on an on-going basis. The team suggests that this plan could be accomplished, at least in part, by drawing on revenue from Boston’s tourism economy.
“No Building is an Island” – One of the most creative aspects of this proposal is the Resilience Report Card, a simple, user-friendly method that would indicates a building’s vulnerability and allow the city to map risk and target investments.
“Bountiful Delta” – Guided by the notion that resilience alone is not good enough, this proposal envisions waterfront neighborhoods that “are not just persistent but prosperous.” The strategy calls for modular infrastructure, adaptable land (think of a community garden that could be transformed for fish farming), a lively and water-resilient pedestrian streetscape, and community spaces, restaurants, and retail establishments to provide a genuine neighborhood feel.
“Resilient Linkages” – This proposal attempts to balance the immediate pressure for development in Fort Point with the long-term understanding that the area will be prone to regular flooding in the future. The plan would establish a new, elevated street grid and require developers to integrate supportive infrastructure for sea level rise into their projects, which could then be linked to form fully-functional, neighborhood-scale infrastructure.
“Model Urban Waterfront District” – This proposal would raise the entire base and infrastructure of the 100-acre neighborhood by approximately twelve feet, matching the raised elevation of historic Summer Street and creating a resilient development area to serve as a model urban waterfront district for the 21st and 22nd centuries.
“The Hydrokinetic Canal” – This proposal for transforming Morrissey Boulevard and Harbor Point over the next 100 years draws inspiration from the topographic and land-use patterns of 17th century Boston. A new system of waterways would be created to increase Columbia Point’s resilience to climate change, generate sustainable energy, and provide an expanded, improved public realm. A new Hydrokinetic Canal is this urban plan’s centerpiece.
“The Omega Chain” – The Omega Chain would be a resilient network system around the Columbia Point peninsula that connects disparate areas with holistic mechanisms that transcend simple solutions and elevate quality of life for residents. It contemplates gradually converting the existing Morrissey Boulevard into a landscaped park and constructing a new elevated and curved roadway adjacent to the park to calm fast-moving traffic.
In addition to the jury-selected finalists, Boston Living with Water organizers announced People’s Choice Award winners for each site category, as determined by online voting over the past two weeks. Those distinctions went to “Living Threshold,” “Open Circuit: Traveling Water,” and “Reconnect-Resist- Slow-Collect.”