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How Resilient Design Can Save Coastal Communities
Hallie Busta / ARCHITECT / August 26, 2013
Boston civic and industry leaders outline design strategies for protecting coastal urban centers from severe weather damage.
Rising sea levels and stronger storms have garnered national attention as some of the more visible effects of climate change. Their increasing frequency is testing the mettle of coastal built environments, requiring architects and building owners to think twice about how they’re integrating resilient design practices. A new report for the Boston Society of Architects and the Boston Foundation for Architecture, commissioned by the city of Boston and the Boston Green Ribbon Commission—which comprises local industry, civic, and academic leaders helping to fulfill the city’s environmental sustainability goals—highlights best practices for architects and designers working in coastal urban areas. The report was prepared by the environmental analytics firm Linnean Solutions, the environmental research group the Built Environment Coalition, both based in Boston, and the Resilient Design Institute, in Brattleboro, Vt.
Released Aug. 7, the 117-page report titled “Building Resilience in Boston: Best Practices for Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience for Existing Buildings” aims the spotlight at Boston’s population and built environment and, specifically, their vulnerabilities such as variations in the age and construction of the city’s building stock and the populous communities built on infill land and in other low-lying areas (see map below). The report concludes with a list of design strategies to buffer these susceptible zones from the effects of climate change, pulling best practices from New York’s PlaNYC program, launched in 2007 to develop and implement infrastructure changes in the face of New York City’s rising population and climate change, as well as London’s and Toronto’s extensive storm-response strategies. The advice can be an invaluable resource or refresher for architects and designers working in North American coastal metropolitan areas from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Miami.
Boston is a good example of a city whose structural pedigree, population density—it’s the fifth largest metropolitan area in the U.S.—and low-lying geography make it uniquely vulnerable to Mother Nature. Its historical roots are partly to blame. The port town was settled in 1625 on a small peninsula connected to the rest of North America by an isthmus. During the early 19th century, the city began rapidly expanding its land mass through infill. Now covering 48 square miles and hosting a population of 626,000, the city rests 46 feet above sea level with the areas created by landfill—including its Back Bay and South End neighborhoods—among its lowest points.