By Christian Flinn
Local efforts toward improving Global Resilience
The city of Boston, MA applied and was subsequently admitted into the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) initiative in 2014, in part thanks to its coordinated response to the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013. The decision that prompted its application are linked to the fact that, as a major metropolitan area, the city has prospered economically yet remains vulnerable in a number of areas. These include: flooding and sea-level rise (SLR), infrastructure failure, lack of affordable housing, social inequity, and terrorism. While the focus of this profile will be on the city’s efforts to improve resilience in the areas of flooding and SLR, it is worth noting that the 100RC targets all aspects of a city’s deficiencies where disaster mitigation and preparedness are concerned.
Like many cities located within an East coast hotspot that faces SLR at a rate three to four times the global average, Boston faces the possibility of being underwater within the next century. As a result, the city has found it necessary to take action to devise a resilience plan. The first step was to utilize its 100RC grant to create a position in local government known as the Chief Resilience Officer, currently held by Dr. Atyia Martin, who is in charge of creating a dialogue surrounding the city’s efforts at mitigation in order to identify problem areas and set priorities for a long-term plan to address them. A veteran of the Air Force and having previously worked as the Director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness at the Boston Health Commission, Dr. Martin holds a great deal of experience when it comes to disaster response coordination.
Her priorities for the city are derived from those of the Department of Homeland Security. As such, according to her website, of the seven core capabilities in the mitigation mission area she will focus her efforts on those “most related to the Social Determinants of the Vulnerability Framework.” These include: risk and disaster vulnerability assessments and long term vulnerability reduction. In Boston, these efforts have translated to more coordinated city planning as well as recent competitions, such as Boston: Living with Water, and organizations like A Better City (ABC), which aim to assess different ideas and alternatives as to how Boston can better prepare for projected SLR.
From Living with Water, one example of Boston’s future called Re De Boston came to the surface. The plan has the city reclaim old industrial sites and install green infrastructure that can simultaneously further the city’s carbon-neutrality goals as well as improve its resilience in the face of SLR via raised platforms and elevated street levels. Furthermore, the proposal allows for the installation of mitigating technology, such as more efficient storm drains and wetlands that can absorb excess water. Such a proposal would be in line with Dr. Martin’s vision for the city since it involves a study phase that assesses community vulnerability and calls for development of the area in question in a gradual, adjustment-oriented, manner.
A Better City, a nonprofit dedicated to the study and development of progressive and resilient infrastructure investments, released a report in February 2015 detailing options available for upgrading existing infrastructure. It advocated for replacing aging technology with affordable and more efficient clean alternatives that allow the city greater resilience when conventional energy infrastructure is damaged. Overall, it proposes building a Boston similar to the one described in the Living with Water competition but with a more general scope and a broader, all-encompassing approach.
Initiatives like the ones described above characterize the work of the 100RC network and having access to the practices and expertise of every member city will likely prove an asset to Dr. Martin and the city of Boston moving forward. All in all, cities like Boston, which are in many ways the best equipped to deal with issues like SLR, can and must serve as examples to other cities facing similar challenges. The practices and technologies Boston incorporates will likely be imitated by those cities and will, via information-sharing facilitated by programs like the 100RC, help to improve resilience throughout the world.
For further information, contact Christian Flinn at Christian.Flinn@warwickconsultants.net.