Local forum helps prepare Bostonians for rising sea-levels

Boston-area communities may be at risk of flooding as sea levels rise. Photo courtesy of Tim Hill / Creative Commons

By Caitlin Faulds
BU News Service

BOSTON — More than 150 people gathered Tuesday night to get a head start handling the repercussions of sea-level rise which, according to Climate Central models, is expected to cause widespread flooding throughout Boston by 2070.

“Nature is a hard negotiator,” said Deputy Director of Mystic River Watershed Association Julie Wormser, who was the featured speaker Tuesday night. “When you get record flooding, your high ground is no longer high enough.”

The “Wicked High Tides” forum, hosted by the Museum of Science in a hall lined by dinosaur fossils, tree rings and artificial tornadoes, used interactive games and expert-led discussion to encourage Boston residents to look toward the future and start planning for sea-level rise now. 

Discussion leaders at 12 tables led participants through a sea-level rise resilience game created in collaboration with Northeastern University, Arizona State University and NOAA SciStarter. The game forces players to develop a plan to save the make-believe city of Kingtown from the devastating impacts of sea-level rise, including storm surges up to 17 feet. However, the diverse economic, environmental and social needs of Kingtown’s residents modeled the difficult real-world decisions to come. 

James Gleason, 43, and his son Conor Gleason, 11, enjoyed putting themselves in the residents’ shoes to figure out the best plan for everyone. 

“We all kind of villainized Frank the Transit Worker, and our heart went out to the guy who worked in the hospital,” James Gleason said.

Eight local organizations also attended the event, setting up tables beside an exhibit of miniature tall ships to offer Boston-specific advice on coastal impacts and climate solutions. 

Magdalena Ayed, Founder and Executive Director of hyperlocal sustainability nonprofit Harborkeepers, advocated for more climate resilience education and community programs, especially in harborside neighborhoods like East Boston where additional social vulnerabilities are at play. 

“We’re this island and we need a lot of help, essentially,” Ayed said about East Boston. “Our organization really works hard to build consensus, collective action, to learn together as a community and stakeholders.”

The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management also encouraged community involvement by recruiting citizen scientists to help track regional coastal changes through the smartphone app MyCoast.  

“I can’t right now ‘cause it’s almost 9 p.m., and my phone is locked for the night,” said Conor Gleason, who attempted to download MyCoast on the spot but was blocked by a parent-enforced nighttime screen limit. After witnessing flooding around Boston, he was excited to help experts by documenting these events.  

Chris Mastroianni, a former bioenvironmental engineer with the U.S. Air Force, felt the forum spurred needed discussion and offered “action-oriented” advice. 

“I find these [events] to be helpful in better articulating my thoughts,” Mastroianni said. “Something needs to be done, but we don’t want to invest right away.”

On stage, Wormser praised the city’s investment into climate-readiness projects like Resilient Boston Harbor and pushed for community members to come together to find workable solutions. 

“You don’t build your way out of all these challenges, you also kindness your way out,” Wormser said. “Boston will have to be different. It doesn’t have to be worse.”

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