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Boston Hopes to Change Zoning for Sea Level Rise

This is the first post of the Chesapeake Project's IN THE NEWS blog series.

Read the article here.... News Article Link


Cities across the United States are beginning to come to terms with their futures in the face of climate change. Boston is among the most progressive in this process, preparing soft barriers rather than hard barriers (wetlands instead of flood walls).

City officials expect 40 inches — or more than 3 feet — of sea level rise between 2070 and 2100 due to climate change if global greenhouse gas emissions are not significantly reduced. And for development in the city’s many low-lying neighborhoods, that is going to require changes.

Boston has now moved to make changes to its Zoning and Permitting process, preventing any new construction that would be directly threatened by sea level rise. This will start forcing developers to raise up the topography while also moving functions of the buildings upwards. On the at risk level, some functions like lobbies and temporary commercial space (markets) will likely be allowed.


Seeing a city as large as Boston start to make these changes that will prevent us from developing new structures in the path of climate change is a promising sign. Although it should be pointed out that the city is using estimates of only 3 feet of sea level rise. This shows the difference sea level rise will have depending on your geographical location. While their estimate might be too low, regions like the Chesapeake Bay are at far more risk due to our land type. This is why local advocacy is key. We all need to adjust differently to secure a safer future.


Cities in the Chesapeake Bay region need to begin taking similar actions soon to prevent wasting resources on new projects that might be irrelevant in half a century. Do we protect what we've built like the National Mall and the Smithsonian, do we simply elevate our structures and let the streets become waterways, or do we selectively retreat where there is a will?

These are the hard decisions that our cities, counties, and states must start making. Decisions that should only be made by those who must live with the consequences of them, the local low-lying population.

Want to write about the issues behind Sea Level Rise? Join the Chesapeake Project as an organizing member or submit a guest blogpost.



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