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Old 06-06-2010, 01:10 PM   #1
czsz
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Proposed Boston flood barrier

Epic project proposed to link Boston's islands to prevent the city from being inundated by storm surges in the wake of ice cap melting:

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Defending Boston from the sea
A massive ocean barrier. Hidden Holding tanks. With Sea Levels Rising, Urban Planners Start Envisioning a More Waterproof City



By Drake Bennett
June 6, 2010

For 400 years the sea has been kind to Boston. Maritime trade fed the city?s early economic rise, and countless cod laid down their lives to feed its inhabitants. With the exception of boatloads of occupying redcoats, the Atlantic hasn?t given the city much to complain about. When the area has flooded ? as it did this spring ? it hasn?t been because of the mighty Atlantic, but the placid Charles.

But when Boston?s planning visionaries think about the future, increasingly, it?s the sea they?re worried about. Huge swaths of the city are on landfill, just a few feet above sea level, and as ocean levels rise in the coming decades ? as most earth scientists project they will ? Boston faces the prospect of an ocean that is higher and more dangerous than the one it has long known. So-called 500-year floods ? freak meteorological events of extreme destructive power, now expected only twice a millennium ? will become 100-year floods, and 100-year floods will become 20-year floods.

The specter of rising seas has long been invoked by environmentalists as a kind of warning, to spur action on climate change. But in recent years, a growing chorus of planners and scientists have begun talking about higher sea levels not as some cautionary scenario, but as a fact of life ? one that everyone who lives near the ocean, whatever his views on the climate, needs to prepare for.

What does Boston need to do? Architects, city officials, insurers, and engineers have begun to lay the groundwork

for a new version of the city, one prepared to keep pace with rising tides. In the past few years, the conversation has gained momentum, with meetings in City Hall, academic conferences on the topic, and a widely discussed article in the current issue of the journal ArchitectureBoston.

The ideas run the gamut from basic infrastructure fixes ? raising the entrances to the city?s subway and highway tunnels, or moving electrical equipment out of downtown basements and onto the roofs ? to zoning changes that discourage construction in high-risk areas. And a pair of architects is proposing a megalithic building project that would completely reshape Boston Harbor, using massive sea gates that could swing shut to seal the city off from the most devastating storm surges.

?This isn?t just an environmental issue,? says James W. Hunt III, the city?s chief of environmental and energy services. He ticks off the agencies currently involved in the effort: the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Mayor?s Office of Homeland Security, the office of Environmental and Energy Services, the transportation department, the public health commission.

Boston isn?t the only city trying to figure out how to head off a flooded future. In New York City, one team of architects has proposed lining lower Manhattan with wetlands to absorb the rising waters of New York Harbor. One of the winners of a competition in San Francisco last year was a design for a giant ventilated levee that would maintain different sea levels in different parts of the bay. Planners are looking to places like the Netherlands, Venice, and London, all of which have built mammoth gates ? Venice?s is slated for completion next year ? to hold back unruly seas. They?re seeing whether some of the lessons that cities have learned by living with regularly flooding rivers can apply. The imperative is to start to think, in a detailed, nuts-and-bolts way, about how to deal with rising seas.

But even as it gathers steam, the effort is running up against the practical obstacles that face any grand building plan. It takes decades to design and construct projects at the massive scale of some of the harbor proposals. At the same time, the threat from the ocean is hugely uncertain, politically controversial, and unlikely to hit us with acute force for decades: a recipe, in other words, for political inertia. In Boston and elsewhere, those pushing for transformative measures to fight rising oceans must contend with human psychology, a force as powerful as the sea.

Like most port cities, Boston doesn?t sit right out on the ocean. A wave rolling ashore from the Atlantic first encounters Hull Peninsula, then Deer Island, then passes among the islands strewn around the broad outer harbor. Only then does it enter the chute between South Boston and East Boston, reaching the inner harbor and finally lapping against the piers of downtown.

Until the 19th century, the wave would have had to travel slightly farther. Boston, famously, is built on soil shaved off of the hilly peninsulas around the harbor and spread between them as the city?s population grew.

That means much of the city is barely above sea level as it is, and relatively small sea level rises could put most of the Back Bay and the South End, along with much of downtown, South Boston, East Boston, Charlestown, and Cambridge underwater. A paper put out last year by the World Wildlife Fund and the insurer Allianz calculated that a one-and-a-half-foot rise in sea level by 2050 would put over $400 billion in local assets at risk.

?The history of Boston is such that we kind of made the situation worse, because we cut down our hills to make land, and that land is pretty low to the water,? says Alex Krieger, an architect and professor at Harvard University?s Graduate School of Design.

There is, of course, a significant range in estimates for how much sea rise the city will actually see, from several inches to several feet. And the rise itself will be gradual, since it will depend on the expansion of warming ocean water and, in the worst-case scenarios, the melting of glacial sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

The fear is that higher sea levels will mean higher storm surges: the waves whipped up by offshore storms and hurricanes that can wreak havoc when they crash ashore. While New England sees far fewer storm surges than, say, New Orleans or Fort Lauderdale, it has seen some ? the mid-March storm this year created a 2-foot surge, and a 1938 hurricane known as the Long Island Express created a 30-foot surge that killed 700 people and left Providence under 15 feet of water. In addition to higher seas, many atmospheric scientists argue that climbing global temperatures will also make for more frequent and intense storms.

The effects of higher storm surges would be felt below ground as well as above. Water high enough to top the Charles River dam, which protects the city from tidal surges, would also gush into the city?s tunnels, quickly flooding them. Nearly 30 miles of the city?s highway and subway system would be turned into an impassable network of subterranean saltwater rivers.

One response to this prospect is to make the city itself more flood-proof. Back in the 1990s, the designers of the new sewage plant on Deer Island raised the whole structure a couple of feet to better withstand higher surges. The Boston Water and Sewer Commission is launching a multiyear study of how to drain the city during a massive inundation ? one in which, for example, torrential rains combine with a high surge. According to chief engineer John Sullivan, the study will look at everything from bigger sewer pipes to turning playgrounds into temporary reservoirs. Another possibility is giant holding tanks under roads, perhaps in combination with underground pumping stations along the coast.

Some of this citywide flood-proofing can be accomplished through zoning, in particular working with FEMA to update flood plain maps. Doing so would force builders in the newly flood-prone areas of town to build higher off the ground and vent ground-level areas so that they can flood and drain with minimal damage. Though these changes haven?t yet been made, a few private institutions are already taking things into their own hands. Plans for the new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital facility in the Charlestown Navy Yard include features that upend traditional building design: The ground floor will be nearly two and a half feet above today?s 500-year-flood line, and the building?s electrical transformers and switch gear, rather than being in the basement, will be on the roof, where even the most Biblical flood can?t get them.

?Even with a monster surge, there will be no dire catastrophe in the building. There?s a principle of resiliency that we?re trying to build into it,? says Hubert Murray, an architect and the manager of sustainable initiatives at Partners HealthCare, the hospital?s parent company.

Murray, who was formerly chief architect for the Central Artery Project and president of the Boston Society of Architects, has been a leading voice in trying to get the city?s leaders to prepare for higher seas. With the architect Antonio Di Mambro, he wrote an article in the current issue of ArchitectureBoston urging the city to consider a design Di Mambro first proposed in 1988 for what he calls the Sea Belt, a colossal, dock-lined barrier that would link Deer Island, Long Island, and Squantum into a bulwark across the harbor, with 15-foot gates that would rotate closed to protect the city from storm surges. The outer harbor would effectively become an encircled pond, shielding the city and all around it from the fury of the swollen ocean.

The scope of that project, reminiscent of the vast barrier being built outside Venice, or those that already protect London and the northern Netherlands, raises issue that hangs over all of this: cost.

Di Mambro doesn?t have a price tag for the project, but he says estimates for similar projects elsewhere have run from $2 billion to $5 billion. And while his plan is the most ambitious on the horizon, any significant change in how the city relates to the harbor will impose its own costs, in money, time, or simply convenience. That means the problem won?t be addressed without the sort of long-term perspective that can be hard for public and private sector leaders to muster. Who would pay? What authority would even tackle the problem?

?I think it?s a big challenge both for government and business,? says Bud Ris, president and CEO of the New England Aquarium. ?How do you deal with things that basically won?t happen on your watch, particularly where you don?t get the benefit from doing the right thing, nor do you get the pain for doing the wrong thing.? Ris is a member of Mayor Thomas M. Menino?s Climate Action Leadership Committee, which this spring delivered a report to the mayor with recommendations for ?reducing Boston?s contribution to climate change [and] addressing changes we cannot avoid.?

City Hall has yet to make any concrete moves ? the discussion, at this point, is mostly just that, though Boston?s leadership appears to be paying attention to the issue in a way few other American cities are. ?Is it early in the process? I would say yes,? Hunt says. ?The key thing is we?re integrating adaptation into our planning in the city.?

Last year the New England Aquarium hosted a conference that dealt in some detail with the question of how Boston could adapt to higher seas. A similar conference is planned for this fall, co-hosted by the aquarium, along with the University of Massachusetts Boston, Tufts University, Massport, The Boston Harbor Association, and others.

And while the gradual pace of predicted sea level rise means the city has time to adapt, it?s also true that the unwieldy process by which massive infrastructure projects are designed, approved, and built follows a near-geological timetable of its own. As Di Mambro sees it, that means if we?re going to building something to head off a problem that is still decades in the future ? whether it?s his sea gate or something else ? we need to start thinking very seriously about it now.

?It takes about 20 years to do environmental studies and design and it takes another 15 years to build it,? he says.

If that seems excessive, think back to the last major infrastructure project the city embarked on. As Matthew Kiefer, a lawyer who worked with the mayor?s climate change committee on adaptation issues, points out: ?The Big Dig, from conception to completion, that was 30 years.?

Drake Bennett is the staff writer for Ideas. E-mail drbennett@globe.com.
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/id..._from_the_sea/
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Old 06-06-2010, 02:02 PM   #2
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

This is why I love Boston. You all talk shit about how Boston never does anything cool blah blah blah but this is actually something Boston would pull off. Boston does ridiculous big stuff like this all the time (landfill, subway, Big Dig, etc). I can totally see this happening in like 25 years.
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Old 06-06-2010, 02:42 PM   #3
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

This is pretty and all, and was proposed more than 25 years ago in the Globe, but what about low lying areas within Boston Harbor frontage, outside of the barrier? Do we screw Quincy south of Squantum, Weymouth, Hingham, Hull? Why can't this go from Deer Island to Allerton? Why can't we go from Cape Ann to Race Point? We could have a big pool.

What about other areas of the state that are low lying on the coast, Scituate, Lynn, Revere, portions of Marshfield? Are they not as important as precious Cambridge, which is protected by not one but two dams?

This idea annoys me not for the concept of protection but the areas it is designed to protect. Protect the "smart" people, screw everyone else. Do we have a name for reverese Nimbyism?
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Old 06-06-2010, 03:23 PM   #4
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

the easiest answer being that it is the city of Boston planning this, and not the state.

Quote:
?This isn?t just an environmental issue,? says James W. Hunt III, the city?s chief of environmental and energy services. He ticks off the agencies currently involved in the effort: the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Mayor?s Office of Homeland Security, the office of Environmental and Energy Services, the transportation department, the public health commission."
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Old 06-06-2010, 03:36 PM   #5
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

So the same people that said we were on the verge of a new Ice Age in the 1970s, then claimed were on the verge of a massive Global Warming trend which according to the non falsified data has actually been a cooling trend the lass decade, now want to spend billions to build a system of levies when New Orleans and most of the Mississippi flood pain still flood despite the construction.

This is bloody lunacy. There is not a global epic climate change crisis at the moment, and should one every actually arise there is nothing puny humans could do to change it. Any efforts to actively fight off coastal flooding in one area is only going increase the severity in other areas. If such a system was implemented, every major storm which hit Boston would be painless to the city and wipe out the North and South Shore in the process.
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Old 06-06-2010, 03:43 PM   #6
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

I would love to see the port facilities part happen, along with rail to them.

But anyways, I think Deer Island to Hull would be better, even though I think this is totally unnecessary at this time.
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forget it ever happening, its too great an idea.
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Old 06-06-2010, 04:19 PM   #7
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

I think I remember a proposal to reroute 93 along this very same path during the planning stages of the Big Dig.
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Old 06-06-2010, 05:38 PM   #8
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

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So the same people that said we were on the verge of a new Ice Age in the 1970s, then claimed were on the verge of a massive Global Warming trend which according to the non falsified data has actually been a cooling trend the lass decade, now want to spend billions to build a system of levies when New Orleans and most of the Mississippi flood pain still flood despite the construction.

This is bloody lunacy. There is not a global epic climate change crisis at the moment, and should one every actually arise there is nothing puny humans could do to change it. Any efforts to actively fight off coastal flooding in one area is only going increase the severity in other areas. If such a system was implemented, every major storm which hit Boston would be painless to the city and wipe out the North and South Shore in the process.
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Old 06-06-2010, 06:32 PM   #9
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/...ts-on-the-run/

blade_bltz I take it you haven't been following 'ClimateGate', or the fact that sea ice is growing at the most rapid pace since 1978, sea levels aren't rising, temperatures are down since 1998, a lot of people lied their asses off because there was a lot of money to be made selling carbon indulgences for a non-existent problem. It's a major news story in the UK and the rest of Europe. The US press doesn't cover the story because the facts don't fit their established narrative. Well that and GE/Westinghouse own half of broadcast TV and have a huge stake in green energy subsidies.

The same exact crap was sold with the same exact hype as 'global cooling' and the 'next ice age' in the 1970s. The scientific community is always eventing panics when it means grant dollars or tie ins with business.

This flood barrier is nothing but a modern day Maginot Line against an imaginary problem. It will be a boondoggle to build, the environmentalists and fishermen will through a bloody fit, and the state will go bankrupt maintaining it.
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Old 06-06-2010, 07:02 PM   #10
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

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This idea annoys me not for the concept of protection but the areas it is designed to protect. Protect the "smart" people, screw everyone else. Do we have a name for reverese Nimbyism?
There are lots of wealthy communities that don't get protected by this - Hingham, Beverly, Marblehead. And there are a number of poorer cities that are - like Chelsea and Everett, not to mention East Boston or Dorchester. Overall, it's a question of means. How far should/can this thing extend? To all of Massachusetts? The entire East Coast?

The answer the builders of this barrier seem to be implicitly supplying is that the sunk cost is greatest in dense cities, and the outlying areas with their scattered single family homes will find it relatively easier to adapt - or at least that it isn't as cost-effective to save them.

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I think I remember a proposal to reroute 93 along this very same path during the planning stages of the Big Dig.
That would be kind of crazy. It would be closed by any kind of storm.
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Old 06-06-2010, 07:30 PM   #11
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

Providence and New Bedford have both had such harbor barriers for many years.
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Old 06-06-2010, 08:38 PM   #12
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

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There are lots of wealthy communities that don't get protected by this - Hingham, Beverly, Marblehead. And there are a number of poorer cities that are - like Chelsea and Everett, not to mention East Boston or Dorchester. Overall, it's a question of means. How far should/can this thing extend? To all of Massachusetts? The entire East Coast?

The answer the builders of this barrier seem to be implicitly supplying is that the sunk cost is greatest in dense cities, and the outlying areas with their scattered single family homes will find it relatively easier to adapt - or at least that it isn't as cost-effective to save them.


Have you previously worked for the Three Gorges Dam relocation service?

"Scattered single family homes" in Quincy, Weymouth, Lynn? Does anyone on these posts actually know about the places these "grand ideas" might affect? Real people actually live there, with real children, yards, jobs, lives, commercial centers, etc. There is a world outside of areas on the Green Line.

How about this; we rip up all of landfilled Boston back to 1630? That is Back Bay, most of the South End, the MIT area, the Bulfinch Triangle, the Airport, the South Bay, all of South Boston north of West First and East First Street, the Inner Loop of Charlestown, etc.

Let's restore these vital wetlands that were filled, so that they may absorb any potential rise in sea levels. How's that for a plan? Just as loony as a plan that would benefit only certain areas of the Metro area and not others.
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Old 06-06-2010, 08:44 PM   #13
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

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Just as loony as a plan that would benefit only certain areas of the Metro area and not others.
Huh??? There's no logic to a plan that takes population density account and cost into account?

(Notwithstanding the fact that I think the whole flood barrier plan is pretty silly).
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Old 06-06-2010, 08:58 PM   #14
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

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the easiest answer being that it is the city of Boston planning this, and not the state.
The City of Boston can't keep 10 year old girls from being shot. The City of Boston keeps the pavement on High Street purposely in bad shape in front of International Place to piss off Don Chifaro. The City of Boston will only allow beer to be sold up until the 7th inning at Fenway. The City of Boston and the State can't agree who will run the detail cops to repair the portion of Dalton Street over the Pike. You want the City of Boston to build an uber Thames Barrier?

I knew Jim Hunt when he was a teenager. He is a great guy, but the City will not be the lead in this, if it ever got built.
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Old 06-06-2010, 09:13 PM   #15
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

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Huh??? There's no logic to a plan that takes population density account and cost into account?

(Notwithstanding the fact that I think the whole flood barrier plan is pretty silly).
What makes Quincy less important than Somerville? Does Lynn have a lower population density than the Seaport? Why should Commonwealth Avenue be protected and not Hingham Square? Where are you going to put all the people from the areas on the outside of the barrier? Why should the taxes paid and equity of a Chinese immigrant on Douse Road in Quincy matter less than an Equity Office skyscraper? Are we going to obiterate areas of Winthrop so an 18 wheeler or freight train has a straight line to the proposed docks?

People on these posts seem only to think about monetary costs and not human costs. Massive relocations behind the barrier? Are you going to pay for that? If you own a three decker on Lafield Street in Dorchester, why should you benefit from this when a homeower in Weymouth Landing doesn't, yet the Weymouth owner has to pay for the barrier as well?

I see posts on this site that seem to have the pulse of the same crazed urban planners that killed the West End or who built The Barbican. I see areas of Greater Boston dismissed as some kind of Outland, beyond the pale wilderness. Get in your Zipcar and go see what you casually dismiss.
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Old 06-06-2010, 09:26 PM   #16
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

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What makes Quincy less important than Somerville? Does Lynn have a lower population density than the Seaport? Why should Commonwealth Avenue be protected and not Hingham Square? Where are you going to put all the people from the areas on the outside of the barrier? Why should the taxes paid and equity of a Chinese immigrant on Douse Road in Quincy matter less than an Equity Office skyscraper? Are we going to obiterate areas of Winthrop so an 18 wheeler or freight train has a straight line to the proposed docks?

People on these posts seem only to think about monetary costs and not human costs. Massive relocations behind the barrier? Are you going to pay for that? If you own a three decker on Lafield Street in Dorchester, why should you benefit from this when a homeower in Weymouth Landing doesn't, yet the Weymouth owner has to pay for the barrier as well?

I see posts on this site that seem to have the pulse of the same crazed urban planners that killed the West End or who built The Barbican. I see areas of Greater Boston dismissed as some kind of Outland, beyond the pale wilderness. Get in your Zipcar and go see what you casually dismiss.
So basically, we need to surround every entire populated landmass in the world with this or not do it at all? K.
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Old 06-06-2010, 09:40 PM   #17
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

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So basically, we need to surround every entire populated landmass in the world with this or not do it at all? K.
The point I am trying to make is that people agreeing with this idea on these posts seem to be taking care of themselves and as long as this great idea benefits them where they live and work, but screwing over the Environs, therefore IT IS A GREAT IDEA!!!!.

How about this? we strucutre a flood barrier so that it extends from Point Allerton to Moon Island and then onto Castle Island, which protects Quincy, Hingham, Weymouth, Dorchester. Another barrier is built to protect Winthrop. However, due to design this creates areas that might be flooded, since a storm surge would flood the area around the Back Bay, and MIT, which of course lie on filled land that was always meant to be natural and absorbing floods. The South End might be protected becuase the Pike could be used as a moat. Beacon Hill most of the North End, most of South Boston, Charlestown, and East Boston would be protected becuase of their elevations. My idea would be percieved as many on these blogs as insane becuase where they live and work would be flooded.

Get it? See it's ok when your ok but when you are on the downside of pie in the sky urban planning, it is not so ok. Right? Yet from the perspective of someone along Wessagusset Beach, my idea sounds much better than what was in the Globe today.
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Old 06-06-2010, 09:45 PM   #18
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

Again, this specific plan is being developed BY BOSTON.

Nothing is stopping said communities from developing their own plans and eventually applying for state/federal financing.
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Old 06-06-2010, 09:49 PM   #19
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

Agree with the comments that this is Boston-specific. But even if it weren't:

1. More people and assets would be affected by the flooding of the central city.

2. The only way one of these barriers could be realistically designed would be to protect the center and increasingly disparate areas. So the question isn't whether the center should be protected at the expense of certain suburbs, but which suburbs can be protected along with the city center.

3. People who live in dispersed settlements wind up taxing us who live more efficiently in cities because they demand more infrastructure to support their way of life - longer roads, sewage lines, the externalities of autocentrism, etc. Per capita the barrier would be way more expensive if extended to include low density towns, like a highway built to these communities generally is. Moreover, the barrier is specifically protecting coastal dwellers who have enjoyed high property values...why should people inland have to pay for their protection when they've chosen to accept the risk of seaside living?

4. So what's so terrible about subsidizing (or mandating insurance coverage for) the movement of people to higher elevations in places where the barrier can't be built? The fact that these are low density towns makes it relatively easy by comparison.

(Caveat: I do wonder if a more inclusive barrier would be more cost effective than this)
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Old 06-06-2010, 09:51 PM   #20
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Re: Proposed Boston flood barrier

What about simply between the Seaport and the Airport? Protect downtown, but with the very short (2500 feet) distace covered, it wouldn't displace too much surge onto adjacent communities.
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