On the evening of October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey and New York City bringing devastating storm surges and high winds that ravaged parts of the Jersey shore and triggered record flooding throughout New York City. Before the superstorm reached the Tri-State area, it started as a tropical depression that grew into a Category 1 Hurricane that battered the Caribbean. More than 100 people lost their lives, thousands of homes were destroyed, and more than an estimated $75 billion of economic damages lay in its wake.
For Boston, Sandy was a wake-up call to our own vulnerabilities and our need to prepare for the rising tides and stronger storms. What followed in the decade since the superstorm is a story of countless efforts by multiple agencies and stakeholders to get Boston, its waterfront, and communities ready for the next “big one” while keeping our city’s greatest public resources accessible and resilient to the impacts of climate change.
Since 2013, there has been better coordination and improved collaboration on climate resilience planning and disaster preparedness throughout various levels of government, the non-profit sector, the private sector, academia, community groups, and residents. Below is a curated summary of the last ten years of our organization’s efforts, partners’ efforts, and other information on trends and progress:
- The Boston Harbor Association released the “Preparing for the Rising Tide” report in partnership with the University of Massachusetts Boston, the Barr Foundation, and others to provide policymakers, planners, and property owners with site-specific examples of how to assess vulnerability and increase resilience to coastal flooding over time.
- Two years after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced the Living with Water Design Competition, an open international call for design solutions envisioning a vibrant, resilient Boston that is prepared for end-of-the-century climate conditions and rising sea levels.
- City of Boston, with support from the Barr Foundation, began their Climate Ready Boston planning process to advance the city’s climate preparedness. This collaboration between the City of Boston, the Boston Planning and Development Agency, the Green Ribbon Commission, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, UMass Boston, and local foundations resulted in the release of Climate Ready plans for five waterfront neighborhoods.
- UMass Boston launched the Sustainable Solutions Lab, a collaborative research and action institute focused on equity and climate change. The Lab has studied a range of critical Boston climate issues from the feasibility of a harbor-wide barrier system to equitable approaches to governance and funding for climate adaptation.
- The Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) grant program created as part of Governor Baker’s Executive Order 569 provides support for cities and towns in Massachusetts to identify climate hazards, assess vulnerabilities, and develop action plans to improve resilience to climate change. Communities that complete the MVP Planning Grant process become designated as an MVP Community and are eligible for MVP Action Grant funding to implement the priority actions identified through their planning process.
- Boston Harbor Now began the visioning process for a Boston Harborwalk that is more accessible and connected, inclusive and equitable, and climate-prepared and resilient. This framework was dubbed Harborwalk 2.0 and is focused on raising the standard for the public realm around the waterfront to meet the challenges and needs of the 21st Century. This month, a community design workshop series is developing ideas for the future of the Fort Point waterfront, one of the Boston neighborhoods most vulnerable to sea-level rise.
- City of Boston expanded on its climate preparedness planning with the release of its Resilient Boston Harbor vision, which presents a comprehensive vision for Boston’s coastal resilience that includes accessible and resilient open spaces and infrastructure that is well-prepared for sea-level rise and storm surges with new parks and green solutions.
- The Boston Planning and Development Agency issued new Coastal Flood Resilience Design Guidelines as a resource to assist developers and property managers with making informed, forward-looking decisions about flood protection. The guidelines will ensure that new and renovated buildings are prepared for coastal and stormwater flooding.
- Stone Living Lab launched. The Lab is a unique partnership between Boston Harbor Now, the UMass Boston School for the Environment, the City of Boston, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and the National Parks of Boston. It is a collaborative initiative for testing and scaling up nature-based approaches to climate adaptation, coastal resilience and ecological restoration in the high-energy environment of the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park. Today, the Lab is actively conducting research and gathering real-time data of Boston Harbor to better predict and model the impacts from the next major storms.
- A recent New York Times poll found that for the first time in the survey’s two-decade history, a majority of Americans said dealing with climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress. This sentiment has grown 25% over the decade since Superstorm Sandy.
- With improvements in weather data modeling and advancements in real-time monitoring, local and federal emergency responses have much better early storm warning systems to keep people out of harm’s way. These advances have shown a trend in fewer storm-related deaths year-over-year while the increasing intensity of the storms and other factors show an increase in the economic cost of storm damage.
- The Coalition for a Resilient and Inclusive Waterfront was founded to raise awareness of Boston’s harbor and rivers and the need to adapt them to the impacts of climate change while making them more welcoming. The coalition is an alliance of diverse non-profit organizations from across the region that centers equity and community engagement in the work around climate resilience of the region’s public open spaces.
- The State of Massachusetts allocated $5.4 million for climate resilience measures in its 2023 state budget. The White House’s 2023 Budget provides more than $18 billion for climate resilience and adaptation programs across the Federal Government. Additional funding opportunities were appropriated in recent legislation including the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.
- The Washington Post reported that since 2017, an unprecedented number of storms rated Category 4 or stronger have lashed the U.S. shoreline. The report cited a number of recent studies that have documented a steadily growing quantity and intensity of global tropical cyclones over the last three decades. The intensification of these storms is aided by raising ocean temperatures. This increases the urgency of preparing for what would have been rare storms to happen more frequently.
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- There are approximately 75 coastal resilience projects requiring approximately $3 billion of funding to implement along Boston Harbor, and partners across all levels of government, the non-profit sector, the private sector, academia, and the community are working to do so.