Boston’s Seaport District was little more than an assortment of outdoor parking lots and warehouses as recently as 10 years ago. Today, the 1,000-acre area has become a hotspot for hulking office buildings housing corporations and startups. Recently signed tenants include General Electric, Amazon, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Fidelity Investments.
But, among the array of shiny new office buildings, condominiums, museums and restaurants at the Seaport lies a hidden vulnerability in climate change. Boston Harbor already floods more than a dozen times each year, up from just two or three times in 1960, oceanographer William Sweet of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently told Bloomberg Businessweek.
City officials and corporate executives alike are now scrambling to protect the man-made peninsula, which was built nearly 200 years ago by workers filling in tidal flats with rocks, dirt and even trash.
“We’re proposing infrastructure that we believe will protect the city,” Richard McGuinness, deputy director at the Boston Redevelopment Authority told Bloomberg. “How do you retreat from billions of dollars of assets? It’s not practical.”
Measures to protect the district include elevating ground floors, putting electrical and other critical equipment on higher floors, and building with saltwater resistant materials as well as flood barriers to protect garages. Additionally, the city of Boston is planning a series of sea walls, berms and other structures to barricade against potential floods. Bloomberg reports the city still needs to raise nearly $1 billion to fully protect the Seaport District.
Since 1980, Boston has experienced the most high-tide flooding of any city on the East Coast, according to NOAA’s Sweet. The water level at the harbor could be as much as four feet higher than it is now by the end of the century.
WS Development, the most active developer in the Seaport, currently has more than $3 billion in projects in the district, including an office tower that will house more than 2,000 Amazon employees. To prepare for potentially rising tides, the developer is building up the ground under its projects. At the St. Regis condo tower, the lobby floor has been designed so it can be permanently raised by four feet to cope with flooding.
At the MassMutual building, which broke ground earlier this month, aqua fences that can be assembled in a number of hours, have been included in construction plans.
“Our species has been engineering against the seas for a long time,” Roger Crandall, CEO of MassMutual told Bloomberg. “There’s a cost to it, make no mistake, but there’s also a cost of picking up and moving development further inland.”
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