Event Recap: Resilience Recommendations for Boston’s Next Mayor

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2021 | 9AM - 10:30AM | WATCH | SLIDES

On June 2nd, A Better City hosted a joint panel event with the Boston Green Ribbon Commission to hear from resiliency leaders in their respective fields about what they see as resilience priority actions and recommendations. These recommendations will be included in a set of resiliency recommendations for Boston’s next mayor to ensure we are ready to respond to federal infrastructure funds and state funds as they become available.

Kate Dineen, Executive Vice President, welcomed the audience of approximately 60 members and partners, followed by Yve Torrie, Director of Climate, Energy & Resilience, who introduced the event. As the City of Boston and its partners have worked diligently to understand Boston’s projected climate impacts, the neighborhoods that will be most affected, and have worked to develop plans for these neighborhoods, she said that many are now eager to move from planning to implementation.

City of Boston Update

Carl Spector, Commissioner of the Environment for the City of Boston, updated us on Boston’s resilience work, providing an overview of City-wide resilience project priorities. He started by mentioning two new appointees: Chief White Hammond and Sanjey Seth, Program Manager for Climate Ready Boston. He said there are four areas of resilience focus:

  • Planning – Based on the Climate Ready Boston report of 2016, the City has developed plans for neighbors deemed most vulnerable with the most recent plans for Downtown/North End and Dorchester being released last year. Currently, they are also doing a second planning phase in East Boston and Charlestown. By the end of the year, there will be a full set of coastal neighborhood plans. They are also engaged in an extreme heat study for neighborhoods inland that will be completed by the end of the year. This is being done in conjunction with a tree canopy master plan by The Parks Dept which will be an essential part of the heat work.
  • Regulatory activity – The City are in the process of developing regulations to implement the local wetlands protection ordinance adopted 1.5 years ago and have recently released phase II of these regulations looking at isolated vegetated wetlands and vernal pools. Phase III will look at the extended protected flood areas beyond the current flood plain that is expected to become a part of the floodplain in the next 50 years. They are also looking at environmental justice components of climate change and wetlands protection. The other main regulatory activity is the Coastal Flood Overlay District released by the BPDA in draft in February of this year. They have worked to ensure alignment between the zoning district and wetlands work.
  • Implementation – Current implementation activity includes work in the Fort Point Channel where they hope to secure a grant from FEMA for work on the east side of the Channel. They are beginning to implement plans from the South Boston report and are working with the BPDA and tenants on Long Warf to think through implementation priorities from the Downtown recommendations. They are working in East Boston on two key areas – Lewis Street Mall and Carlton Wharf. The Parks Department have been a great collaborator by integrating coastal sea level rise planning into their work including Langone and Puopolo Park in North End and Martin’s Park in Fort Point Channel. They are also working with the BPDA on a consistent set of sea level rise numbers as there have been discrepancies in various part of the City. On the heat side, they are focused on short term measures for the upcoming summer heat including a repeat of a small-scale but important program from last year with Boston Medical Center and area non-profits to provide air conditioning and fans to lower income households where heat is recognized as a health threat.
  • Research – The City is engaged in the Stone Living Lab on Rainsford island, which is a facility to test primarily nature-based solutions for dealing with sea level rise and stronger storms.

Ensuring Equity 

Dr. Atyia Martin, CEO & Founder, All Aces Inc., discussed strategies for centering environmental and climate justice in resilience recommendations, given the disproportionate impact on low-income and communities of color. All Aces supports organizations and people to be more resilient, to foster belonging, the humility to learn, and the hope to envision a more equitable future.

Dr. Martin said that one of the habits when discussing resilience is to focus on infrastructure, the economy, the environment, and the governance of this work. But one of the things we don’t often talk about is the people aspects of resilience even though it impacts everyone’s lives. The disproportionate burden of climate change on communities of color, poor communities, and other marginalized communities means we have to be very intentional about how to center racial equity and social justice in these discussions. This can lead to transformative opportunities in resilience.

Within Boston the demographic distribution shows high concentrations of low to no income communities, older adults and single parent households, people of color, and people with disabilities in the very communities impacted by the discriminatory practice of redlining. These are the same communities projected to be impacted by a disproportionate burden of climate challenges.

She then discussed targeted universalism as a tool that sets universal goals for all groups and uses targeted processes to achieve these goals. There are several opportunities within this process, the biggest opportunity being intentionality. For example, if we are talking about retrofitting buildings and know we do not have enough workers and businesses to meet that demand, by understanding the historical and disproportionate burden borne by many in our communities, we can invest in workforce development opportunities in these communities, can contract for equity, and ensure voices of people closest to the worst-felt impacts are centered in the planning of these. How we spend our money matters!

She said there are 4 E’s of public administration to ensure good governance: economy; efficiency; effectiveness; and equity (mandated as a responsibility of City administrators). Therefore, we cannot claim to be a resilient City if all of us do not have the ability to be resilient and thrive. Now is an opportunity for all of us to roll up our sleeves and recognize the opportunity before us to ensure that all residents in the City of Boston get an equitable return on their investments within the City.

Advancing Climate Ready Boston 

Bud Ris, Senior Advisor, Boston Green Ribbon Commission then updated us on the GRC’s analysis of Boston’s priority projects based on close work with the City of Boston over the last 5 years on advancing Climate Ready Boston.

Bud started with some facts from the Climate Ready Boston report: 18,000 people along the Boston waterfront are at risk of flooding by 2030, and 80-85,000 people will be at risk come 2050. From the neighborhood plans, cost estimates of installing resilience measures in public realm/right of ways are: Charlestown - $33-62M; East Boston - $122-200M; Seaport - $521M-1B; Downtown - $189-315M, and Dorchester - $111-215M. This brings a total cost of $1-2B, although consultants think this figure should be doubled. There are 75-80 flood protection projects, about half of which are slated for completion by 2030 because of flood risks. He reiterated the immediate focus on East Boston and Fort Point Channel, and the collaboration with the Parks Department as described by Carl Spector. The costs above, do not include the protection of private buildings, but he said property owners and developers have moved towards taking flood protection very seriously, realizing that it is important to the market value of their buildings. He gave recent examples by Lendlease and Related Beal.

He continued by saying there are big questions remaining about prioritization and coordination across City agencies and the private sector, about how equity concerns will be prioritized, and about who will pay and what the basis will be for that decision. He ended by providing the following recommendations to Boston’s next Mayor:

  • Create a cabinet level position to coordinate plan implementation;
  • Create a transparent system for prioritizing projects for implementation;
  • Clarify expectations of who should pay;
  • Pursue multiple financing options; and
  • Create a long term, permanent governance structure.

The Role of the Private Sector 

Nick Iselin, General Manager of Development in the American region at Lendlease, provided an overview of the development community’s responses to the challenges and opportunities resulting from climate resilience planning.

Nick spoke about Clippership Wharf, a project on East Boston’s waterfront as an example of Lendlease’s strategy and approach to development. He said there is a large price tag for resilient development on the waterfront and developers typically bear these costs. He went on to say that it is key to think about other financing and partner opportunities. The key lessons from the Clippership development are:

  • Commit to sustainability – Developers’ aspirations are typically higher than the City’s spurred by savvy tenants and innovative thinking. He said Article 37 was just the start and that it is important to understand the tools developers use. There is a new framework around sustainability that includes carbon and social value, including a 1.5 degree C alignment and an aim to create $250M in social value by 2025.
  • Deregulate, don’t hyper-regulate – Acknowledging this is a touchy subject, he said it’s very difficult to develop waterfront properties and that regulations shouldn’t make it more difficult. He said with more regulations being inevitable with sea level rise, partnerships are important to help developers navigate the morass of waterfront regulatory requirements. He suggested the creation of an ombudsman role to coordinate across agencies. He also emphasized that creativity and flexibility will lead to better results whereas currently the regulatory framework is about what you cannot do.
  • Practical challenges – These included: removing DPA designation which would unlock opportunities and add value; seeing Article 25a as a good start but a special permit process could facilitate comprise and a density bonus defray cost; and that Chapter 91 and MHPs are tying developers’ hands. He encouraged flexible thinking around what a ground floor is.
  • Re-define developer relationships – Equity is part of their sustainability strategy which led to access and community partnership in delivering comfortable and inclusive places. As a long-term owner of real estate, Lendlease assumes stewardship and being entrusted to execute on resilience planning. In terms of financing, the market doesn’t always support desirable outcomes and co-investments can solve timing and infrastructure problems.
  • Lessons learned - District-wide resiliency plans are key; markets and developers react well to incentives so incentivize, don’t penalize; set standards but don’t be prescriptive to ensure compliance; and ensure extra credit for protecting communities. He said development is key but resilient solutions are expensive and will require creativity and money.


Jill Valdés Horwood, Director of the Boston Waterfront Initiative at the Barr Foundation then responded to the panelists by saying that it was the first time she’d seen a variety of perspectives brought together around what needs to be done to move resiliency forward.  She was glad to see that resilience has expanded to include social resilience, key to the Barr Foundation’s priorities. She went on to say that this is an opportunity for our harbor and waterfront city to take on this resilience challenge and learn from the Big Dig which also required a lot of people to come together with different perspectives and expertise. That project too seemed impossible and insurmountable. She said the Waterfront Initiative is ready to roll up their sleeves and be an active part in the solution.

Marc Margulies, Owner and Principal of Margulies Perruzzi Architects, also responded to the panelists. He said he is running a group known as the Wharf District which is a group of property owners who recognize they need to collaborate on solutions. They are endeavoring to create a plan where each individual property owner understands what they need to do to tie the waterfront together and create a barrier to protect the central artery, greenway, etc. As these are existing properties, they are running into regulatory challenges around creating the kind of barrier that will be needed. He advocated for public-private partnerships.


There was only time for one question: In the event of federal investments into the City of Boston's resilience initiatives, what specific projects or types of projects would be your top-tier priorities for immediate implementation and why?

  • Dr Atiya Martin
    • Contracting for equity is one of the most important recommendations both in terms of engagement process and also in large development process because of disproportionate distribution of wealth and issues of addressing the racial wealth gap that currently exists.
  • Bud Ris
    • Follow the science, where flood risk is most urgent;
    • Look at vulnerable populations that need help, especially low-income – focus financing on those areas along the waterfront;
    • It’s not only about where people live - people also need to continue to be able to get to work ;
    • Moakley Park is a good example of a “shovel-ready” project as it can serve as a protective barrier for low-income neighborhoods behind it in South Boston.
  • Nick
    • Funding and staffing the agencies and endowing them in the long-term so that there are people who can focus on these issues from a regulatory standpoint more effectively.
    • Having regulators equipped with the right staffing, tools and re-writing of key regulations is a key area of focus that could be funded now and in perpetuity.
  • Carl
    • We have a long list of projects already in the queue, but we need to do a more detailed prioritization of what we have that can be adjusted according to the amount of federal money that comes along. The focus will be on projects that solve multiple purposes of resilience, equity, access, storm water retention and flood retention like Moakley Park.

John Cleveland, Executive Director of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission, provided closing remarks. He echoed the sentiment of panelists and responders that now is the time to get on with this and reiterated the Big Dig and Harbor Clean Up projects. The risks and rewards of this project are just as high, and he left us with the need for persistence and collaboration.

The recording and slides are available. For any additional questions, please contact ytorrie@abettercity.org.




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