The Urban Implications of Living with Water

Posted on: 2/05/2015 - Updated on: 2/27/2020

Posted by

Brenden McEneaney



How does one protect and enhance the value of a real estate asset, community, and infrastructure as the climate changes and sea levels rise?

Building on the climate preparedness work done for the Mayor of Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission, ULI Boston’s “The Urban Implications of Living with Water” charrette was convened as an opportunity to explore resilient design solutions for development in the region. The charrette explored how to help land owners, developers, designers, and public officials act to protect their assets and communities from the risks associated with sea level rise and climate change.

The issues focused on what ULI members and those involved in the industry can begin to do now to protect the quality of the urban experience and respond to the significant changes that are expected in the coming years.

Sea level rise implications for the Greater Boston region are significant, as a substantial percentage of these communities not only are bound by water but were also built on former marshlands which are susceptible to instability when saturated with water. Some or all of these areas may well be flooded twice daily during high tide by the end of the century, and more frequently during severe storms in the coming years. “The Urban Implications of Living with Water” charrette, a ULI Resiliency Grant project funded by The Kresge Foundation, embraces sea level rise, exploring the development opportunities for four urban typologies with distinctly different challenges.

Four sites in and around Boston were chosen for their similarities as well as their differences, and are meant to represent typologies rather than site-specific solutions. The intent was for the issues raised and solutions proposed to be replicable and have wider applicability beyond these given locations. For each site, interdisciplinary teams of ULI members were assembled that included expertise in development, finance, design, and insurance. They were teamed up with city leaders and local experts to expose opportunities for, and barriers to, climate preparedness.

The critical questions each team sought to address were:

  • What types of resilient strategies could be implemented over time, to upgrade and protect existing buildings and properties within the district?
  • How can we develop new urban design solutions that address both sea level rise and more frequent storm events while maintaining a vibrant streetscape?
  • How do we pay for this and what is the cost of doing nothing?
  • What barriers to resiliency planning currently exist at the local, state, and/or federal levels?
  • What development opportunities arise if we strategically rethink our relationship with water?


Document Type
Sociopolitical Setting
Target Climate Changes and Impacts