Building a climate ready Boston

With Boston under threat from climate change, the city has released its Climate Ready Boston Report that will guide Bostonians towards a more resilient future.

As the century progresses, Boston is likely to experience more extreme temperatures and weather events. It is projected that the city’s summer average temperature of 69 degrees over the 1981-2010 period will increase to 76 degrees by 2050 and 84 degrees by 2100, while the number of days above 90 degrees could increase from the average of 11 over the period 1971-2000 to as many as 40 by 2030 and 90 by 2070. Meanwhile, Boston will experience a large increase in the intensity of rainfall. Already there has been a 70% increase in the amount of precipitation that falls on the days with the heaviest precipitation.

Building a climate ready Boston

Building a climate ready Boston

To enhance resilience to climate change-related extreme weather events, the Climate Ready Boston report calls for the expansion of green infrastructure to manage stormwater as well as mitigate the urban heat island effect, improve air quality, restore natural systems and habitats and improve the water quality of the city’s watersheds.

One green infrastructure project that will become the flag-bearer for future projects in Boston is the green infrastructure pilot projects being rolled out across 5 schools in the city. The schools being:

  • Ellis Elementary School
  • Jackson/Horace Mann K-8 School
  • Kennedy Health Careers Academy
  • Rafael Hernandez K-8 School
  • Washington Irving Middle School

A green classroom

Construction of green infrastructure has already begun at the Washington Irving Middle School in August 2016 and construction will commence on the 4 remaining schools during the summer of 2017. The Washington Irving project is the flagship project as it will be the largest and will have the most green infrastructure features including vegetated swales, a new turf field ringed with trench drains, stormwater tree pits and a porous track. There will also be an outdoor classroom space containing an extensive bioretention feature surrounded by boulders where students can sit, play and interact with the feature. Furthermore, the vegetated swales will have concrete swales side-by-side so the students can make a visual comparison between the ‘green’ and ‘gray’ infrastructure.

Educational opportunities

To educate the students on green infrastructure, science curricula has been developed so that students will receive stormwater education twice before reaching high school. Individual lessons will be added to an existing unit for the 5th grade and an entire stormwater unit will be developed for the 7th grade that includes potential career path and public speaking elements.

Specifically, the 5th grade course will:

  • Introduce students to stormwater
  • Detail the current path stormwater travels to receiving waters
  • Explain how green infrastructure changes the pathways by allowing natural hydrology to resume its function

The stormwater unit for the 7th grade will:

  • Explain more in depth about the pollutants affecting stormwater and receiving-water quality
  • Detail green stormwater management and treatment techniques
  • Include role-playing as various participants and stakeholders in green infrastructure design, construction and maintenance

Finally, there will be green infrastructure signage at all 5 schools for the community to read and understand the multiple benefits green infrastructure provides in managing stormwater.

The take-out

Green infrastructure not only mitigates the impacts of climate change but also provides numerous environmental educational opportunities.

*Robert C. Brears is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley), and of the forthcoming titles Blue and Green Cities (Palgrave Macmillan) and The Green Economy and the Water-Energy-Food Nexus (Palgrave Macmillan). He is Founder of Mitidaption, which consults on climate change risks to business, governance and society.

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Author: Robert C. Brears

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