Natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina will forever be etched into the minds of those most affected. The Gulf Coast, Jersey Shore and New York City now serve as stark reminders of how catastrophic Mother Nature’s wrath can ben. Sea Change: Boston, an exhibition curated by Sasaki Associates in partnership with the Boston Architectural College, The Boston Harbor Association and the City of Boston, now on display at District Hall in the Innovation District aims to bring a more resounding voice to the talk of rising sea levels in Boston.
Part of Sea Change: Boston includes a one-day symposium at District Hall that brings together municipal leaders, urban planners, civic designers, engineers, academics, advocates and community members that took place Saturday afternoon. This meeting of the minds was meant to examine how rising sea levels will impact Boston and what residents can do on the street-level to prepare for it.
BostInno spoke with Gina Ford, chair of Sasaki’s Urban Studio and landscape architect, as well as principal Jason Hellendrung about Sea Change: Boston‘s origins and what they – as well as colleagues Nina Chase, Chris Merritt, Ruth Siegel and Carey Walker – hoped to achieve.
After working on projects in post disaster communities that have been subjected to major flood events, Ford and Hellendrung understood that no coastal city was exempt from encroaching waters, even Boston.
“We’ve come to realize, particularly with Sandy hitting so close to home, that it shouldn’t take a disaster to start planning for sea level rise,” Ford explained over the phone. “Being Bostonians, we saw this as a huge opportunity to start a conversation more visibly. And we can only expect that it’s going to happen more frequently.”
The simple fact of the matter is that conversations like the ones Ford and Hellendrung are trying to perpetuate have actually been taking place for years. The only problem is that they’ve yielded little action, unless disaster strikes, that is.
The symposium consisted of three panels. Hellendrung described the first one as a “design strategy to have you think tangibly about things.” The idea was to have people think about actual solutions to rising sea levels. Whether it’s a wall that quells storm surges, a marsh that dissipates storm surges or a sacrificial first floor of a building meant to deal with flooding, part one is meant to put people in the mindset of thinking about physical solutions.
Hellendrung referred to the second part as “tough decisions and thoughts about highly flood prone areas” followed by the last part during which he called for “thinking big. No single community can address these issues on their own. Water is one of those things that doesn’t have any boundaries” and can impact anyone.
By arming people with the knowledge of the impending dangers to our shoreline, Ford and Hellendrung are hoping the conversation will begin spreading across contemporary forms of communication like social media. They’re also soliciting help from City Hall, hoping Mayor Walsh will build upon the environmental foundations laid by former Mayor Tom Menino.
“There’s a lot of momentum building,” they told me in closing. “Mayor Menino set the ground on some things. Mayor Walsh is keeping forward with that.”