Boston Living with Water

The proposal for structural new protection of Boston – by Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes prize winning entry in the city’s competition– against coastal flooding turns a safety precaution into an opportunity to create a multifaceted ecology feature

This article was originally published, feature-lenght, in the Green special report, Domus 994, September 2015

The focus of our competition entry “Total Resilient Approach” is based on the redesign of Morrissey Boulevard, a strategy that works on local and territorial levels.

Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters. Top: preliminary sketch showing waterways and the grid of the built environment. Above: site plan of the project area

Operating on different scales within a single ecological network, the protection plan can be implemented over time and is therefore adaptable to climate changes. The Boston Bay is destined to undergo rapid changes due to rising sea levels. The defence proposals afford an opportunity to speed up landscape transformations with a multidisciplinary approach. A long-term element of our project for the Bay is the rehabilitation of its ecosystems in order to protect the coastline by means of sea-grass meadows, oyster barriers and dunes, and improve biodiversity by enhancing self-adaptive systems such as salt marshes.

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Going With the Flow

With Climate Change and sea level rise a motivated topic of concern (or yawns- depending who you talk to!)  I found this article on the Netherlands approach to Sea level rise edifying. From the New York TImes via Archinect By 

Dick Sellenraad/Aeroview, the Netherlands..

Overdiepse Polder, an infrastructure project in the southeastern province of Brabant south of Amsterdam, will have eight elevated farms.  More Photos »

OVERDIEPSE POLDER, WASPIK, THE NETHERLANDS — When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York proposed the other day to spend up to $400 million to buy and raze homes in the floodplains damaged by Hurricane Sandy, I thought of Nol Hooijmaijers.

Some dozen years ago the Dutch government ordered Mr. Hooijmaijers to vacate the farmland that he and his family shared with 16 other farmers so it could be turned into a river spillway for occasional floods. I visited Mr. Hooijmaijers recently. He and his wife, Wil, served coffee in their new farmhouse and showed off the new stall for their cows.

How they and their neighbors responded to that government order, and how in turn the government dealt with their response, is a story that might now interest Mr. Cuomo and other New Yorkers.

It has been to the Netherlands, not surprisingly, that some American officials, planners, engineers, architects and others have been looking lately. New York is not Rotterdam (or Venice or New Orleans, for that matter); it’s not mostly below or barely above sea level. But it’s not adapted to what seems likely to be increasingly frequent extreme storm surges, either, and the Netherlands has successfully held back the sea for centuries and thrived. After the North Sea flooded in 1953, devastating the southwest of this country and killing 1,835 people in a single night, Dutch officials devised an ingenious network of dams, sluices and barriers called the Deltaworks.

Water management here depends on hard science and meticulous study. Americans throw around phrases like once-in-a-century storm. The Dutch, with a knowledge of water, tides and floods honed by painful experience, can calculate to the centimeter — and the Dutch government legislates accordingly — exactly how high or low to position hundreds of dikes along rivers and other waterways to anticipate storms they estimate will occur once every 25 years, or every 1,000 years, or every 10,000.

And now the evidence is leading them to undertake what may seem, at first blush, a counterintuitive approach, a kind of about-face: The Dutch are starting to let the water in. They are contriving to live with nature, rather than fight (what will inevitably be, they have come to realize) a losing battle.

Why? The reality of rising seas and rivers leaves no choice. Sea barriers sufficed half a century ago; but they’re disruptive to the ecology and are built only so high, while the waters keep rising. American officials who now tout sea gates as the one-stop-shopping solution to protect Lower Manhattan should take notice. In lieu of flood control the new philosophy in the Netherlands is controlled flooding.

Governor Cuomo’s plan would turn properties in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island into parks, bird sanctuaries and dunes that could act as buffer zones for inland development. The idea is to give homeowners an incentive (perhaps up to $300,000) to move voluntarily out of areas where, in hindsight, single-family houses shouldn’t have been built in the first place. The Dutch have pursued a more aggressive and complex relocation strategy.

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