Last week the Boston Society of Architects and ArchitectureBoston magazine held a panel discussion called "Troubled Waters: A Public Forum." Drawing from topics explored in the magazine's most recent issue, "Coast," the panel featured WBUR's "On Point" host Tom Ashbrook as moderator, Sasaki's Nina Chase, Assoc. ASLA, Stoss Landscape Urbanism's Chris Reed, ASLA, and Partners Healthcare's Hubert Murray, FAIA.
The panel was an intelligent and spirited conversation about ways in which Boston needs to start thinking about preparedness. Some highlights included:
• The need for Boston to develop a plan
• The importance of thinking regionally
• The challenges present in the Innovation District, and opportunities to implement model strategies there
• The concept of creating a waterscape complement to the city's Emerald Necklace (the Sapphire Necklace, as The Boston Harbor Association's Julie Wormser puts it)
The panel also illuminated the need for the design community to focus on communication.
There is no silver bullet for resilience; we will need to layer many strategies to achieve true protection from sea-level rise and other effects of climate change. And, more often than not, this line of discussion quickly becomes complex. As designers, we rely on sweeping, evocative discourse to convey the big picture and industry-specific language to explain the details. Neither communicates effectively with the local community, politicians, or financiers (as the dogged and charismatic Tom Ashbrook made clear).
Tom, the message is a welcome one. We must address both the conceptual vision and concrete realities in a more inclusive dialogue.
And, though sea-level rise is important, it is just one of many ways climate change is impacting our region. The "Troubled Waters" Q&A raised questions about whether Boston population should retreat to one or a few of our neighboring communities not directly on the coast. But many of
these areas have seen increased flood frequency, such as Lowell and Lawrence, and even tornadoes (in Springfield). Elsewhere, drought is the result of climate change. So the task at hand becomes even more complex: we must not only devise strategies to mitigate the impacts of sea-level rise, but also change the underlying behaviors that are exacerbating climate change.
We must address both the conceptual vision and concrete realities in a more inclusive dialogue.
In New York and New Jersey, HUD's Rebuild by Design competition has provided a unique opportunity in which communities, scientists, academics, and designers are coming together to devise strategies for resilience, with actionable plans as the end result. With the physical and emotional trauma of Sandy as a catalyst, and the tangible context and sustained dialogue provided by the competition, these disparate groups have the opportunity to develop a common language. In one example of facilitating input, we're deploying our CrowdGauge tool, which, through an online game-like interface, helps communities achieve better public participation and understanding of trade-offs. Read more here.
On the larger stage, we need to develop inclusive ways of communicating the vulnerabilities, integrated mitigation strategies, and potential benefits related to not only sea-level rise, but also urbanism and economies. This is especially critical as we undertake proactive effort in cities like Boston, where we have to engender trust through clear communication with the public, our government, and the media. The solutions will undoubtedly be complex and nuanced, but how we talk about them needn't—and simply can't—be.
We hope to help bridge the communication gap in our upcoming exhibition on sea-level rise at District Hall in early spring 2014. Stay tuned!