Thursday, April 19

Sinking Buildings + Rising Seas = We’re Fucked

There’s an inescapable irony in being comforted by truly discomforting stories that serve to remind me that I’m not alone in worrying about the sort of things that could easily be (and often are) dismissed as neurotic. It’s nice to know that at least I’m not alone in my neurosis.

I love Boston. Although I went away to college and I’ve lived abroad on two separate occasions, I always knew that I’d settle here, where my roots are. My grandparents came to Boston from Greece almost a century ago, and my family and friends are here. It’s more than that, however. I love the city and the region that surrounds it. Boston is far from perfect, but as a built environment, it stands out as one of America’s loveliest cities.

Which is why I cannot help but be alarmed when I read stories about dwindling ground water supplies that threaten to erode the foundations upon which so much of Boston is built. Perhaps it would be done differently today, but back in the 19th century, the way they approached construction atop landfill was to drive wooden pilings into the muck and build atop those. When groundwater levels drop leaving those pilings exposed to air, they rot, and that’s bad news for the structures sitting on top of them. This isn’t speculation either. It’s already happening.

If that wasn’t frightening enough, we have the spectre of massive flooding as a result of rising sea levels. A study done by Applied Science Associates of Narragansett, Rhode Island, created a hypothetical model to simulate the effects on Boston’s topography in 100 years if a) sea levels rise by 15 inches, b) the city settles 6 inches, and c) a storm surge hits during high tide. It’s not a pretty picture. Neither was the one painted by an EPA-commissioned study back in 2005. The flooding that was produced just this past week throughout coastal areas should give us an unpleasant taste of what’s to come.

I don’t want this post to be all problem and no solution. The first and most important step is to be aware. Far too few are aware of the threats facing our city and it’s easy to dismiss fears of sinking buildings and rising seas as alarmist melodrama. Take some time to learn about the Boston Groundwater Trust and the city’s Groundwater Conservation Overlay District (soon to include the North End and Fort Point area). Take some time to learn about climate change and environmental sustainability.

Otherwise, we might be forced to do what Chicago did in the mid-19th century. It was drastic, but it did the trick.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Rhea said...

I live in Boston, too, and heard a lecture by someone from the Charles River Watershed Assn. (I think) a number of years ago that said we are on our way to a potable water shortage. I've never forgotten that.

7:04 PM  

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