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By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter

MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Boston, Massachusetts is the first major U.S. city to abandon plans for a new seawall defense in favor of waterfront parks. The move towards more sustainable and cost-effective solutions to rising sea-levels looks like it could become the norm as more and more seafront cities find themselves facing increased flooding and extreme weather phenomenon.

The proposed sea wall was going to take thirty years to build, while the city projects that by 2050 the water level will have risen by over fifty centimeters, Sea Level Rise, Miami Beach, Miami, Florida
The proposed sea wall was going to take thirty years to build, while the city projects that by 2050 the water level will have risen by over fifty centimeters, photo courtesy of King of Hearts/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Ever since the devastating flood in January, 2018, the city of Boston has been planning to build a huge sea wall through Boston harbor, spanning around four miles and costing in the region of $10 billion. But the Mayor of Boston, Martin Walsh, recently announced that they would be ditching this proposal in favor of waterfront parks and increased elevation in vulnerable areas.

“When you have Sandy in New York and Katrina in New Orleans, you had disaster relief and you came up with a plan after the fact.” The Mayor told WCVB Channel 5 Boston while unveiling the new plan to protect 47 miles of the city’s shoreline from future flooding.

The move is also seen as a response to a report from the Sustainable Solutions Lab at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. They researched many factors relating to the planned wall, including the time it would take to build, the money it would cost to both build and maintain, as well as the environmental impact of its construction, plus the actual efficacy of sea walls as a defense against rising tides and storms.

“We found that, dollar for dollar, we could have the same amount of protection for much less cost, and in doing so also invest in our neighborhoods and have more green space,” said Rebecca Herst, one of the lab’s directors, as reported by Stateline.

Not only would the parks provide an effective form of protection against unwanted water, by absorbing and redirecting it, they would also be an attractive place for both the city’s residents and local wildlife.

The waterfront parks would be a cheaper option, as well as being much more visually appealing and environmentally friendly than man-made sea defenses. The city’s Mayor is hoping to raise the money for the new scheme through devoting ten percent of the capital budget to fighting climate change, as well as attracting private investors and businesses to participate, while also appealing for federal funds.

Dutch cities such as Rotterdam have become experts in dealing with rising tides and water management, Sea Level Rise, Miami Beach, Miami, Florida
Dutch cities such as Rotterdam have become experts in dealing with rising tides and water management, photo courtesy of Mlefter/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

The innovative use of waterfront parks and other alternatives to sea walls is something that has long been practiced in Holland. As reported in The New York Times, Dutch firms are the world leaders in water management, and have advised delegations from as far afield as Jakarta, New York, and Ho Chi Minh City.

But now Boston may be the first American city to ditch traditional flood defenses for alternatives that have long been keeping a country with around twenty-seven percent of its land below sea-level safe.

While areas such as Maui and Honolulu in Hawaii, the South of Florida and New York are all planning to either construct new sea walls or upgrade existing ones in the near future, cities such as Norfolk and Virginia Beach, in Virginia, are both considering similar proposals to those put forward in Boston.

“I’m not sure if any other city in America has quite planned this way,” the Mayor of Boston added when presenting the plans to reporters. But with a promise of cost-efficiency, sustainability, and adequate protection, many other seafront cities will be watching Boston’s next steps closely.

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