Awareness, Reaction, Preparedness: Sea Level Rise Risk to the City of Boston, Massachusetts

JaNe Murray Wolff


This analytical study offers insight into sea level rise risks to the city of Boston, Massachusetts. Potential gaps in official plans for sea level adaptation and an understanding of the typical Bostonian’s reactions are discussed. Historical background reviews how the city of Boston was founded on a small peninsula in the year 1630. To expand the city, Boston developed on landfill. Over 50% of Boston was built on this fill – today comprising some of the most valuable real estate in the US. The risks from rising waters are very real; with the concern that little has been done to protect Boston from the sea since the Charles River Watershed, Charles River Dam and the Amelia Earhart Dam were developed. Qualitative research, discussing this Capstone Project topic with both experts in the field of sea level rise and non-expert members of the community, was the primary research method used in the report. Secondary sources include scientific journals, government reports and news articles on the topic. Data and Results research uncovered several approaches to a workable adaptation plan: The most viable of those under consideration are:

1. Engineering and Utilizing Hard Infrastructure

2. Adaptation Initiatives: Learning to Live with Water

3. Reinforcing Existing Structures: A New Model for City Resiliency

4. Teamwork: Securing the Business and Residential Communities Involvement

Boston’s analytical efforts and strategy are impressive, but the city needs to immediately move to an action phase that includes specifics on timing and funding. If the average Bostonian does not feel that sea level rise will impact their way of life, negative reactions to FEMA’s 2013 flood maps are an opportunity to make the issue a cause. Sea level adaptation must be part of the city of Boston’s official 2014 plan, utilizing a multi-faceted, layered strategy that will protect all of Boston’s citizens and neighborhoods.

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