How the Boston Real Estate Community Can Effectively Respond to Extreme Climate Change
Whether the hurricane-induced devastation in New Orleans, the long-term droughts—and then torrential rains—in the Western region, or extreme weather conditions right here in Boston, climate change impacts the way we function both in our personal and professional lives, and in very real ways.
Unless we take action—immediately—the problem is only going to get worse. It will not get better.
This was the overriding message from five leading executives across the private and public sectors who spoke last month at the NAIOP Massachusetts Climate Change and the Future of the Built Environment program.
When it comes to the environmental impact in Boston, the data matches what we’ve all been experiencing:
Compared to previous decades, temperatures are rising, the sea level is rising, and the severity and frequency of storm events is increasing. In fact, noted Austin Blackmon, Chief of Environment Energy and Open Space, City of Boston, Boston currently experiences 10 days each summer of temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with expectations that we’ll have up to 40 such days annually by 2030 and up to 90 such days by 2080.
Without mass-scale intervention, projections point to near-term flood progression concentrating in areas such as South Boston, East Boston, Charlestown, and Downtown.
And in the second half of the century — when today’s children will bear the brunt of the impact and responsibility — the sea level off Boston’s shores will likely rise at least 3 feet, resulting in $85 billion worth of damage impacting 12,000 buildings and 85,000 people by 2070 — nearly four times the damage Boston is expected suffer in the next decade or so.
Extensive and regular flood damage is expected by then to reach Logan Airport, Downtown, Greenway, Central Square, Lewis Wharf, the Aquarium, and Faneuil Hall.
In regards to cause and effect, Douglas Gensler, Co-Managing Director, Gensler, reported that commercial buildings consume 50 percent of global electricity and produce 40 percent of carbon emissions, taxing the environment.
So what action can a combination of the public and private sectors take to help combat these real-world climate changes?
Kathleen Theoharides, Director of Climate & Global Warming, Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs, discussed Executive Order 569, which calls for a 20 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2020, as well as forming an integrated state adaption and hazard mitigation plan.
This dovetails with Mayor Walsh’s “Imagine 2030” plan, Blackmon said, which incorporates and takes into account the various climate data as the city continues to grow. The shores in particular need protection, Blackmon added, requiring smart development, updated zoning and building codes, exploring retrofits, preparing buildings most at risk, promoting access to flood insurance, and prepared and connected communities working together in conjunction with local government, businesses, and the commercial real estate industry.
In the private sector, Gensler explained that new, high-performance construction requires a holistic approach, incorporating such design elements as solar chimney stacks and double skin facades for ideal mechanical heating and cooling modes. He pointed to the 750,000-square-foot, Gensler-designed Partners Health Care campus in Somerville, created with considerable open space and — as is becoming increasingly necessary with new and existing projects — the first level will be raised nearly three feet above grade due to potential flood issues.
Meanwhile, Peter Cavanaugh, Ecosystem Transformation Leader, GE, said that to properly develop its new 12-story glass and brick headquarters building overlooking Fort Point Channel, the company will have to elevate the first floor to 19.5 feet — and raise the entire site by 4.5 feet — because the area is flood prone. GE also plans to implement an energy efficient solar veil over the building’s south side, and install rain absorbent plantings in the green space.
Also responding to the significant impact of climate change in Boston, Nick Iselin, General Manager, Lend Lease, explained that their Clipper Ship Wharf residential and retail mixed-use project — set to transform an underutilized section of the East Boston Waterfront into an active, publicly-accessible extension of Maverick Square and the surrounding East Boston neighborhood — is being constructed on a difficult shoreline site, which requires immense creativity.
Lend Lease will raise the project’s ground floor but also provide user experiences at grade, raise the podium above grade, and utilize native plantings, redundant systems, and floor barriers to prevent against flood damage.
Ultimately, however, Iselin contends that district financing solutions need to be in place so that smart development for private companies can pencil out.
Back to CRE Connector >