Flood waters go down Winthrop Shore Drive February 9, 2013 in Winthrop, Massachusetts. An overnight blizzard left one to two feet of snow in areas, and coastal flooding is expected as the storm lingers into the day.Darren McCollester / Getty Images
By Phillip Martin
August 4, 2021
Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop are launching a cooperative project to understand how climate change will specifically affect low income residents, people of color and other vulnerable residents.
The communities announced last week they are seeking to hire a consultant to conduct a Social Vulnerability Assessment through a new joint regional climate change project, the North Suffolk Office of Resilience and Sustainability.
Ultimately, the aim is to find gaps in the region’s approach to combatting climate change, centered first and foremost around the communities likely to be most affected by it, and then form recommendations about how to take them on.
The project is driven by the idea that, in order to proactively respond to the toll the changing climate will take on the region, first the region needs to understand who that toll will be taken on.
The communities are gathering data and trying to “analyze it and make that more transparent and accessible to really understand how climate vulnerability and social vulnerability to climate is happening,” said Cameron Peterson, the director of Clean Energy at the Boston-area regional planning agency Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
Both the office and the new assessment are funded by grants from MAPC and the Boston climate and education-focused Barr Foundation (which is also a GBH donor).The North Suffolk office, funded through 2022, develops regional projects to help Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop cope with and respond to the encroaching impacts of climate change.
For evidence of the impacts of structural racism and discrimination on people’s lives and livelihoods, skeptics need not look further than how COVID-19 hit Chelsea, says Roseann Bongiovanni, the executive director of the local Chelsea environmental organization GreenRoots. Infections in Chelsea reached six to seven times the state’s levels, she said.
“We always thought it was only climate and not necessarily a pandemic, and yet 18 months ago and throughout much of that pandemic, Chelsea was hit worst,” Bongiovanni said. “That’s really about structural racism and discrimination that has led to our community and communities like ours being so disproportionately burdened by years of environmental and public health threats.”
“As we see the tides rise, the sea rise, flooding become more and more prevalent, erratic weather becoming much more regular and heat impacts, it’s low income people and people of color who are being hit hardest and worst,” she said.
Environmental impacts are already being felt, even as the local governments look to head off the worst impacts and understand gaps in their plans.
“In those heavy winter storms in 2018, we already saw significant flooding,” Bongiovanni said. “The area that’s by the New England Produce Center was almost underwater. … We saw flooding at the Burma Road housing development, at the Mace public housing development, in our neighborhoods.”