An award-winning comprehensive strategy to guide the city of Boston towards a more resilient future
Climate Ready Boston
Climate Ready Boston is a roadmap for creating a stronger, more resilient city. Focusing on coastal and riverine flooding, stormwater flooding, and extreme temperatures, the plan identifies strategies to mitigate future risks for our changing environment. Importantly, the strategies look for opportunities for resilience investments to be multi-benefit—addressing hazard mitigation and contributing more broadly to improved quality of life in our city. In this way, resilience becomes a tool for advancing social equity, promoting economic development, and improving opportunities for healthy living and access to green space.
Historically, the story of Boston has been tied to a changing coastline. In Boston’s early years, land fill projects expanded the city outward, creating new land for expanding neighborhoods and commercial areas. Now, with rising seas, the coastline—and flood risk—is changing course and migrating inland. Water, however, isn’t the only risk. Extreme temperatures and heat waves pose significant increasing threats for public health, especially for youth, older residents, and others with preexisting health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to heat.
Climate Ready Boston is an initiative to plan for how the city will continue to thrive while adapting to long-term climate change. It has three main components: climate project consensus (completed by the Boston Research Advisory Group), vulnerability assessment, and resilience initiatives. An interdisciplinary team of Arcadis, Sasaki, HR&A Advisors, and the University of Massachusetts Boston completed the report in December 2016.
Building on the latest scientific projections, the vulnerability assessment analyzes how Boston’s people, buildings, infrastructure, and economy will be affected by climate hazards. The analysis maps hazards and quantifies risks from extreme heat, stormwater flooding, sea level rise, and coastal and riverine flooding. Without action, an increasing number of residents, businesses, buildings, and infrastructure systems will be exposed to flooding. For example, by the 2070s, annualized losses from coastal and riverine flooding could amount to $1.4 billion, and exposure to flooding in a 1% annual chance flood (a severe event) could include 14% of Boston’s population (88,000 people), 10% of the city’s K-12 schools, 32 MBTA stations, 240 essential public facilities (law enforcement stations, fire stations, and EMS), and sections of many evacuation routes. In addition, more days of extreme heat—up to 90 days a year about 90 degrees—will pose significant health risks. Mortality rates due to extreme heat are expected to triple with the impacts of climate change in Boston. Sasaki examined the impacts these environmental shocks and stresses could have on vulnerable populations in the city.
More broadly, Sasaki developed the Climate Ready Boston graphic brand and identity. The color choices, project logo, and overall graphic style focus on setting an optimistic, hopeful tone, reinforcing the need to view climate adaptation as a broader opportunity for a better city. Sasaki designed the project maps and graphs, focusing on clearly communicating complex ideas to a broad audience.
Addressing the risks identified in the vulnerability assessment, the resilience initiatives include policy, planning, programmatic, and financial strategies that work together to increase Boston’s resilience. Addressing the multiple scales and layers of resilience, the resilience initiatives focus on prepared and connected communities, protected shores, resilient infrastructure, and adapted buildings. Strategies include leveraging climate adaptation as a tool for equitable economic development, expanding education and engagement of Bostonians on climate hazards and action, and expanding the use of green infrastructure and other natural systems to manage stormwater and mitigate heat. An overarching goal is to ensure investments in reducing risk will also be contributing to higher quality of life in the city—especially for its most vulnerable residents.
Climate Ready Boston is led by the City of Boston in partnership with the Green Ribbon Commission and with support from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management. The Climate Ready Boston report is available on the city’s website.