How to Adapt Your City to Climate Change

A new report discusses ways Boston can combat rising sea levels and climate change, such as building out canals

What Happened?

The Urban Land Institute released a report discussing the rising sea level around the Greater Boston region, as well as potential solutions to help the area adapt to the new landscape.

The Study

The Urban Land Institute’s study was drafted to educate the private and public sectors in the Greater Boston region on how climate change and sea level rise will impact the local community and economic environment. The report identifies vulnerabilities of four specific areas and offers potential solutions to ensure sustainability. The report aims to:
  • Promote and advance sustainable developments in the region
  • Integrate sustainability topics and issues into public discourse
  • Community sustainability and policy information to decision makers
  • Offer tools and best practices for sustainable development

One key proposal in the report included designs for canals to be created throughout Boston, similar to those seen in Venice. The canals would offer alternative forms of sustainable transportation while preserving historic buildings in impacted areas. By building out the canal systems soon, the proper infrastructure would be in place to support the water flow while protecting existing resources.


According to the study, municipalities should proactively:

  • Create dynamic planning models
  • Brainstorm new visions for urban design
  • Develop incentives and opportunities to spur compliance
  • Estimate and manage flood risks

Some of the land that will be impacted by rising sea levels has yet to be fully developed, which provides planners with opportunity to create new infrastructure to accommodate infringing water. All new developments should offer both a resiliency and ecological benefit to enhance biodiversity. The projects should go beyond what is typically implemented for storm preparedness and create innovative resources to make use of the rising sea levels to support services such as transit.

The Urban Land Institute recommends communities identify risk areas and start planning developments now before the impact of climate change is a reality and infrastructure has already been damaged. Because experts are only able to make educated guesses on how the region will be impacted, the report recommends communities create partnerships between the public and private sector. This will aid in securing funding as well as accelerate project completion.

New Jersey’s Predicament

Beyond Boston, other regions in New England are at risk of significant damage and loss due to rising sea levels and climate change. A study from the Center for American Progress predicts the antiquated wastewater and sewer systems in New Jersey and New York will continue to suffer as the areas weather a growing number of severe storms. Superstorm Sandy alone pushed 11 million gallons of raw sewage into New Jersey and New York streets when the old water systems failed to manage the storm.

Because major storms are increasing in frequency, communities with outdated water and sewer systems are at risk of having raw or partially treated sewage enter urban waterways during inclement weather. Many water systems were designed based on the typical rainfall patterns at the time. Climate change is drastically altering these figures, underscoring the need for water management upgrades.

Addressing Climate Change

Gov1 has reported on a variety of projects along waterfront communities , as well as strategies to increase community resiliency in the face of climate change.

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