Climate Change Series kicks off at WBUR’s new CitySpace: Will businesses of the future retreat from the coast and what will those shifts mean for coastal cities like Boston?

Representatives from The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees) were on hand as a series highlighting the role of businesses in confronting climate change kicked off at WBUR’s new CitySpace venue on Tuesday, March 5. 

Barbara Moran, WBUR Senior Producing Editor for the Environment, moderated a panel comprised of David Cash, Dean, School of Public Policy, UMass Boston; Bryan Koop, Executive VP, Boston Properties; and Rachel Cleetus, Policy Director Climate and Energy, Union of Concerned Scientists.  

“Climate change is real, and businesses know it,” Moran said in framing the beginning of the discussion. Talk centered around how businesses are taking climate change into account when deciding where to set up shop and general consensus was quickly reached around preparation and resilience being in the best interest of savvy leaders. “Business hates ambiguity,” noted Koop. Cleetus added, “Leaders will recognize the economic advantage.” 

Visualizing the Future 

High-impact images were shared with the audience during the discussion, including photos from the significant flooding event in Boston last March, and maps of flooding threats over the next few decades. By 2060 regular high tide flooding will be equal to the storm flooding in the Seaport last year, Cleetus noted.  

“This is an advance warning,” she stressed, adding, “We need to sit up and take action.” 

One of the solutions proposed for Boston has been a barrier system, or wall, to keep floodwaters from reaching the city. A UMass Boston Sustainable Solutions Lab study published last year assessed the feasibility of what it called “the two most reasonable options,” examining a conceptual Outer Harbor Barrier (OHB) from Winthrop to Hull and an inner Harbor Barrier (iHB) between Logan airport and the Seaport area of South Boston. The study’s authors found that a harbor-wide barrier was “not prudent,” and instead recommended “a multi-layered, shore- based approach,” a point Cash reiterated Tuesday night. “Walls won’t work,” Cash said. Instead, Cash proposed infrastructure such as raised green berms, or green solutions able to absorb water, a notion other countries have embraced. The frequently cited Dutch “ruimte voor de rivier” (or "room for the river") program represents a shift in thinking: rather than build walls, or focus only on raising the dykes, higher water levels can be managed through green solutions. Rather than try to stop the water, give it room to flow, and absorb naturally into the earth.

As part of our One Waterfront Initiative and visioning, the Trustees are exploring parks that will incorporate these types of nature-based elements and solutions. 

Green Solutions 

Some of these green solutions are already being considered in Boston, as the reality of our changing climate drives calls for more resilient design and sustainable solutions, particularly along Boston’s waterfront. On October 17, 2018 Mayor Martin Walsh laid out his vision for a climate resilient Boston, which was praised during the panel discussion, for addressing strategies designed to increase access and open space along the waterfront while better protecting homes and businesses using green solutions.  

“We're not just planning for the next storm we'll face, we're planning for the storms the next generation will face," Mayor Walsh said at the unveiling of his “Resilient Boston Harbor” plan, showing a series of conceptual images of resilient green infrastructure around the city – including park concepts being explored by The Trustees of Reservations through our One Waterfront Initiative. 

This multi-year One Waterfront Initiative is focused on working with the City and public and private partners to protect waterfront open space and create a series of public parks for all. [Click here to explore our concepts]. As the project continues to evolve, watch this space. We look forward to sharing updates, public events and progress.  

Looking Ahead to the Future 

While maps, images, and case studies mentioned at WBUR's event further honed a sense of urgency and action by businesses, government, and citizens alike, the panel discussion wrapped up on a hopeful note, with panelists encouraged by what they’ve seen from the younger generations. Cleetus, who attended the 2018 United Nations Climate Summit (COP24) in Katowice, Poland this December, described the energy and passion she observed from teens determined to make their voices and concerns heard at the gathering of global leaders. She noted, “Watching kids around the world show up and say, ‘this is about our future,’ the moral clarity of it…to me has been really inspiring. It’s been really amazing.” 

Editor’s Note: To learn more about the event series visit: