Rising with the Tides: Saving Boston from Sea Level Rise with a New Eco-District

Presenter: Cyrus Dahmubed

Research Category: Humanities and Arts
Student Type: Graduate
Additional Authors: William Langevin and Florencia Lima-Gomez
PI: Michelle Laboy
Award Winner Category: Humanities and Arts

Within a century, Boston will experience sea level rise and storm surges ten feet above current high tides resulting in catastrophic urban inundation, the need for coastal retreat, and billions of dollars of economic losses. At particular risk is a vast swath of the city historically known as South Bay, stretching from Carson Beach to Northeastern University, and from Fort Point Channel to Upham’s Corner.  This zone has been filled over the last four centuries creating a floodplain home to dense neighborhoods, commercial corridors, and an infrastructural/industrial district that is, in many ways, the lifeblood of the region and is at high risk of decimation from coastal flooding.

Against this threat, a simple grass may hold the key to survival. Cordgrass (spartina sp.) is the keystone species of the salt marshes that once lined the pre-urbanized Atlantic coast.  Its unique ability to thrive in polluted salt water and serve as the foothold for productive and protective ecosystems can be capitalized on to re-create Boston’s at-risk infrastructural zone into a resilient eco-district.  Architectural interventions designed to foster rapid sediment accrual and idealize growth conditions will permit the plant to build its own land in prescribed corridors that will effectively function as a system of self-growing sea walls whose heights will always preempt those of the rising seas.  Within one hundred years this system of ecological infrastructure will have grown to defend Boston’s most vulnerable areas from rising tides while creating an expansive civic amenity and a responsible, resilient way of life.