Boston Considers Requiring Developers To Prepare For Climate Change


Boston-SkylineDevelopers in Boston will soon be required to address how they’ll deal with threats of climate change before they construct large buildings, if a new proposal is passed in the city.

The proposal, which is part of the city’s new Climate Ready Boston report and will be presented before the Boston Redevelopment Authority board next month, would require developers in Boston to complete a climate-proofing checklist which would include documenting how the building would survive in the event of a flood or power outage and how it would conserve energy. The rules would apply only to new buildings larger than 50,000 square feet, a stipulation George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said needs to ultimately be done away with.

“We need to be retrofitting older buildings of all sizes,” he said. “That’s how you reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I believe we need the guidelines to be more specific.”

If the proposal is approved, the city will recommend existing buildings complete the checklist as well, but they won’t be required to. Right now, new buildings need to complete a sustainability checklist, a requirement that’s part of the city’s plan to reduce emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. So far, the city has reduced emissions by 11 percent.

The new rules come a year after Superstorm Sandy pummeled the East Coast. Boston wasn’t hit quite as hard as parts of New Jersey and New York, but Massachussetts still experienced major power outages. But Boston’s proximity to the water makes it vulnerable to sea level rise and future storms — research has shown that seas on the East Coast are rising three to four times faster than the global average, and sea level rise of a few feet could put large areas of Boston underwater.

Some buildings in Boston have already begun preparing for this scenario, without the need for a checklist. The recently-constructed Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital was built by the bay, so its ground floor is raised 30 inches above the current 500-year flood level and 42 inches above the 100-year flood level. The hospital has also constructed the surrounding landscaping to act as a sort of reef, so as to provide some level of protection from storm surge. But the buildings that haven’t prepared are at major risk — city officials have said that if Superstorm Sandy hit Boston during high tide instead of low, 6 percent of the city would have been underwater.

Boston’s not the only city that’s beginning to take climate preparation seriously. New York City is investing $19.5 billion into its Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, which will implement resiliency projects like building 15- to 20-foot tall levees and flood walls around Staten Island. Los Angeles is working to promote “cool roofs” to combat heat, and in Texas, Rebuild Houston aims to improve the city’s drainage system and street infrastructure to better prepare for future floods.