Thursday, December 11, 2008

For Boston, the lessons from Venice

Boston Globe: Upon arriving in Venice on assignment in the 1920s, the writer Robert Benchley cabled his editor: "Streets filled with water. Please advise." As climate change causes sea levels to rise, this lighthearted quip assumes a darker shading.

Boston and Venice are separated - or united - by an ocean. Both are seaports that reincarnated themselves when their shipping and manufacturing economies faltered. Venice has long suffered from storm surges that used to flood St. Mark's Square once every five years.

…In 1988, Boston architect Antonio DiMambro proposed an ingenious remedy: a flood-control structure from Deer Island to Long Island to close the mouth of Boston Harbor and protect Boston from storm surges and extreme high tides, while allowing navigation and normal tidal flow through a series of gates. An idea that 20 years ago seemed to float somewhere between visionary and delusional now seems prescient.

Rebuilding the country's decaying roads, bridges, and flood-control structures is now the subject of urgent national debate. At a time of extraordinary economic challenges, far-sighted policymakers recognize that one thing more expensive than undertaking new public works projects is not to undertake them. Like organisms, healthy cities must adapt to changes in their environment. Just as we catch our collective breath from finishing the Big Dig, we should be addressing the need to protect the investments countless people have made in the city's future by adapting it to inevitable climate change. This could include raising grade levels, creating reefs to absorb storm surges, or building a hard storm-surge barrier like the one proposed by DiMambro….

Spectacle Island (Boston Harbor), a drumlin topped by landfill. Shot by Doc Searls from Santa Barbara, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

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