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Designers Imagine Creative Ways That Boston Can Live When It’s Mostly Underwater

Many of the designs, from floating parks to hydrokinetic canals, invite water in rather than try to keep it away.

As climate change raises sea levels, many cities face the near certainty of flooding in the future. Take Boston. By 2100, forecasts show water levels climbing by five to six feet in its Harbor area, meaning that 30% of the city could be inundated.

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The designs here are some ideas for how it might cope. They’re all submissions to a city sponsored competition called Boston Living With Water, and they represent a useful primer to the field of “blue architecture.”

“Our challenge is to prepare our historic coastal city for sea-level rise and climate change while continuing to strengthen its social, environmental, and economic vitality,” says an introduction. “Our choice is to respond to climate change as a threat or an opportunity; Boston Living with Water is an opportunity to envision a future Boston that is more resilient, more sustainable, and more beautiful.”


Many of the designs invite water in and then manage it, rather than simply trying to keep it at bay. For example, they feature floating parks, inlets waterways and “charge basins” (or “hydrokinetic canals“) that generate electricity when the water flows in and out. Roads are converted into canals. And building is often restricted at the water edge to make way for tidal marshes, “porous edges” and “floodable spaces.”

Much of the functions of the city–including water treatment and electrics–are raised above ground-level. That’s partly to put them out of harm’s way but also to free more space for parks and social spaces. The goal is to create value for citizens even as the city faces a higher threat level. For example, one design features “living levees” where “flood infrastructure [is] rendered as new public realm, with promenades, elevated lawns, plazas, terraces.”

There are 49 blueprints in all, and you can vote for your favorite here. The “people’s choice” part of the competition closes February 25.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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