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Canals for Boston's Back Bay?





The Back Bay Architectural District (yellow), Bay Village Historic District (brown), and Fort Point Channel Landmark District (neon green) are built on fill and therefore susceptible to flooding. Breakwaters, sea walls and wetlands are some strategies. A report by the Boston Chapter of the Urban Land Institute of leading area planners and firms has even suggested incorporating a network of canals into the Back Bay. Graphic source: "Climate Ready Boston," Oct. 2013, Climate Preparedness Task Force, convened by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.


The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change predicts sea levels will rise between 3 to 6.6 ft. on the East Coast by the end of the century. Such predictions, and the realities experienced by Hurricane Sandy in Oct. 2012, which affected the entire eastern seaboard and was particularly damaging to the New Jersey and New York City shorelines, has cities along the East Coast planning to mitigate rising seas and storm surges.

One such city is Boston. Many Boston neighborhoods are built on filled tidelands and particularly vulnerable to rising seas and storms. A 2013 paper by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published in the journal Nature Climate Change, ranked Boston the eighth highest metropolitan area worldwide in expected annual economic losses ($237 million) due to coastal flooding.

Such dire predictions prompted Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to convene a Climate Preparedness Task Force, which delivered a document called "Climate Ready Boston" in Oct. 2013.

Now comes an eye opening report released Sept. 30, 2014 by the Boston Chapter of the Urban Land Institute. The most imaginative solution of their report, offered by some of the city's leading planning, architecture and engineering firms, speculates that one way to prevent flooding is to let water into the city. Some roads in the Back Bay (e.g., Clarendon Street), suggests the report, could be turned into canals to allow the historic neighborhood to absorb rising sea levels: Think Amsterdam or Venice. Such clever engineering would double as public amenities: Think gondolas in the Back Bay.

Other suggestions, perhaps more plausible, include raising the Harborwalk to act as a dyke, adding harbor breakwaters and creating wetlands that would act as sponges during periods of high water.








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June 27, 2019, 2:07 am PDT

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