Addressing flood risks in Boston through reuse of outmoded street space

This proposal was developed as part of the EcodesignX course from the University of British Columbia.

This map of predicted flood risk areas as soon as 2050 with a major storm is a striking reminder of Boston’s climate-related challenges in the future. The city will need to determine how it will handle a predicted sea level rise of 3-6 feet by 2100, especially in the Seaport District and the South End, which are shown below and are at risk of nearly complete flooding.

Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 3.30.47 PMFollowing the model of the New Orleans Urban Water Plan and the “Making Room for the River” plan in the Rhine region, my proposal is for the accommodation of water in these two neighborhoods through the use of canals which will be designed to flood and let water in, not attempt to keep it out.

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These photos show Harrison Avenue (left), a main thoroughfare in the South End, and Seaport Boulevard (right), the main road in the Seaport District. These roads are very wide with large medians and lane widths. Built in the 1960s when these districts were primarily industrial centers to accommodate trucks, they have become outdated as the neighborhoods’ land uses shift to residential and retail uses. The design of these roads have become detrimental to the quality of life and attractiveness of these areas. By removing the medians as well as excess lane width (shrinking the lane width from 12 to 9 feet, for example) and using the space for canals in the middle of the road will serve as both a strategy for constructively incorporating new water into the urban fabric and improving the built environment and the overall attractiveness of the neighborhoods and their public realm.

Canals in Venice (see below) serve as a major attractive feature of the city, and also allow for a new mode of transportation. These canals, in addition to accepting water and beautifying the streetscape, can be used as a method of transportation in these congested and auto-reliant districts. The canal system will allow the Seaport District and South End to be more connected to the water around them as opposed to in conflict with the Harbor and Back River. New water in the districts will be a useful and attractive asset for new residents, and could establish much needed neighborhood identity and character in the Seaport.