The AIA 2030 Commitment: Wanted: A Climate Change Client

shutterstock_118532377.SandyRockawayNYC

It might actually happen this time. Katrina wasn’t enough. Even Sandy wasn’t enough. Maybe it’s the times we’re living in today or the pervasive 24/7 “news” cycle, but after the unimaginable devastation of Hurricane Harvey, we may have reached a tipping point. State and municipal governments (at least) in these United States of America may finally be ready to make climate change and resilience planning part of our ongoing and necessary conversation about public safety and how we spend taxpayers’ dollars.

For example. Yesterday, Marty Walsh, our esteemed Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts, was quoted as saying we could be “wiped out as a city” if hit by a climate-chance fueled category 3 or 4 hurricane plus storm surge. And then – mentioning an academic study currently underway for a $10 billion dam to protect Boston Harbor – Mayor Walsh said:

“If we got hit with Harvey we are talking $50 or $60 billion in damage,” the mayor said. “Does that $10 billion look crazy anymore?”

Stop the presses.

This is exactly what activists and advocates and architects like us (and those are only the groups that start with the letter “A”) have been saying for more than a decade. Check out this report from A Better City, a Boston-based group of business leaders. Check out these winning entries from the Boston Society of Architects’ sponsored Living with Water design competition. Or this impact analysis from The Boston Harbor Association and our very own municipal advisory panel, the Boston Green Ribbon Commission.

And then there’s this idea for a barrier dam connecting several of Boston’s Harbor Islands. This no-longer far-fetched idea was proposed by a local architect – Antoinio DiMambro about – oh – 30 years ago.

Sure, $10B is a lot of money. Who remembers the Big Dig, that 15-year, $15B megaproject to bury Boston’s central artery in a tunnel? Those of us who lived through it would rather forget the construction impacts and cost overruns. But my point is: It got done, and it worked. And the City is inestimably better for it.

So I ask you: What’s the key difference between the Big Dig and whatever massive hard and soft (green) infrastructure projects the communities adjoining Boston Harbor should undertake to protect ourselves from the inevitable effects of climate change?

The Big Dig had a client. We don’t.

There is no shortage of genius designers in our region. I refer you again to the Living with Water competition. And we have widespread local consensus on the resilience imperative. The social justice advocates, environmentalists, architects and planners, businesses, transportation and tourism folks, affordable housing and neighborhood development folks will all show up for a rally or a lecture. We get it.

But how would this work actually get done? Design competitions cannot produce constructed wetlands. Rallies will not produce tidal basins and land wharves. Lectures will not lead to barrier reefs.

Architects, we already know how this process works. You can’t ask “how are we gonna pay for all this?” until we know what “all this” is. We need a real client. We need a climate change client. We need someone to pony up the very small percent of that $10B construction cost to begin the actual design process. We need someone to write the Request For Proposals (RFP) for the multi-disciplinary team to weigh all the impact analyses and cost-benefit studies and hydrology and geology reports and produce an actual feasibility study.

Not an academic study, not more free ideas, not a best-practices survey. Real build-able, fund-able design solutions.

Who will step up? Who will be our #ClimateChangeClient? Time’s a-wastin’.

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4 Comments on “The AIA 2030 Commitment: Wanted: A Climate Change Client”

  1. papeschaia says:

    Well reasoned, Mike, as always.

    How about spreading this idea by getting any like-minded colleagues to sign on to our call for a comprehensive feasibility study of the Metro Boston DikeLANDS concept? FYI, I’ve personally collected over 300 signatures within the past 2 weeks, and have not yet heard back from the many BSA and other colleagues who I have invited to spread the word and get additional signatures.

    As I mentioned to Franziska: let’s thank our particular geography which combines a relatively small watershed ending in an estuary which is bordered by two protective shoulders. Not many other cities or regions – with the exception of San Francisko – have two such protective anchoring borders

    Peter Papesch, AIA Chair, BSA Sustainability Education Committee Co-chair, Back Bay Green Initiative 617 267-6598

    >

  2. What you say is quite right Mike. It is encouraging that the Mayor of Boston is voicing his concerns. A next step towards creating a client would be for him to generate a statement from his 14 metro mayors and then go beyond that to include the mayors of towns from western Massachusetts and talk about extreme precipitation, heatwaves and drought, not to mention the secondary effects of vector borne disease – and solicit the state to develop a comprehensive climate change policy. Boston cannot do it alone. Even eastern Massachusetts – stretching up to NH and down to RI – cannot do it alone. We have to ensure that all constituencies’ concerns are addressed in a comprehensive way so that we do not repeat the political divide caused b the Big Dig.
    I am ready to put my shoulder to the wheel on this.

    • Mike Davis FAIA says:

      Yes, Hubert! That was part of the “promise” of Mayor Walsh, that he came from the Massachusetts House of Representatives and knew how to build coalitions across district boundaries. We’ve seen signs of this potential, but still await the fully-formed coalition.

  3. Hellendrung, Jason says:

    Peter,

    Thanks for cc’ing me on this. I didn’t see the earlier string, but UMass-Boston is studying the harborwide barrier. How is the DikeLANDS concept different?

    Jason S. Hellendrung, ASLA, PLA | Vice President, Planning & Design
    Mobile +1 (617) 970-3478 | Direct +1 (508) 786-2220 | Fax +1 (508) 786-2201 | jason.hellendrung@tetratech.com

    Tetra Tech | Complex World, Clear Solutions™ | Water, Environment & Infrastructure
    101 Federal Street, Suite 600 | Boston, MA 02110 | tetratech.com

    This message, including any attachments, may include privileged, confidential and/or inside information. Any distribution or use of this communication by anyone other than the intended recipient is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful. If you are not the intended recipient, please notify the sender by replying to this message and then delete it from your system.

    [cid:image007.png@01D2EE5A.5AE54D50] [cid:image008.png@01D2EE5A.5AE54D50] [cid:image009.png@01D2EE5A.5AE54D50] Please consider the environment before printing. Read more
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    From: Peter Papesch [mailto:papesch@mac.com]
    Sent: Thursday, August 31, 2017 1:21 PM
    To: Mike Davis FAIA
    Cc: A. Vernon Woodworth
    Subject: Re: [New post] The AIA 2030 Commitment: Wanted: A Climate Change Client

    Well reasoned, Mike, as always.

    How about spreading this idea by getting any like-minded colleagues to sign on to our call for a comprehensive feasibility study of the Metro Boston DikeLANDS concept? FYI, I’ve personally collected over 300 signatures within the past 2 weeks, and have not yet heard back from the many BSA and other colleagues who I have invited to spread the word and get additional signatures.

    As I mentioned to Franziska: let’s thank our particular geography which combines a relatively small watershed ending in an estuary which is bordered by two protective shoulders. Not many other cities or regions – with the exception of San Francisko – have two such protective anchoring borders

    Peter Papesch, AIA
    Chair, BSA Sustainability Education Committee
    Co-chair, Back Bay Green Initiative
    617 267-6598


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