Rising Risks: Waterfront real estate in Boston rises in the face of stronger storms

– Some 16 separate weather disasters in 2017 caused more than $300 billion in economic losses, including damage to both commercial and residential real estate.


– In the past decade, nearly $8 billion worth of residential and commercial real estate has been built or approved for construction in the Boston Seaport District, its inventory of properties doubling, according to CBRE.

– This the first part in a series of pieces looking at the effects of increasingly severe weather and rising water on domestic real estate.

If last year was any guide, storms are getting increasingly intense, dangerous and destructive.

Some 16 separate weather disasters in 2017 caused more than $300 billion in economic losses, including damage to both commercial and residential real estate, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. That is a new annual record.

This year started with a bang as well. Back-to-back nor’easters slammed into the New England coast. The powerful storms sent water flooding in to Boston’s historic Seaport District. It was what city planners had predicted, just not yet.

“In Boston, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking that these impacts are 20, 30 years down the road,” said Deanna Moran, director of environmental planning at Boston’s Conservation Law Foundation. “The last couple of nor’easters that we’ve had have made it very clear that these storms are here now. They’re happening more frequently. They’re more severe.”

Moran studies the impact of climate change on Boston real estate, especially all the new development going on at the water’s edge. The water near Boston is warming more quickly than in any part of the U.S., save Alaska, due to Boston’s proximity to the Gulf of Maine, which is the fastest warming body of water on earth, according to NOAA.

“Boston is ahead of the curve in that we’ve been planning for these impacts, pre-disaster, but I wouldn’t say that we’re ahead of the curve in terms of actually doing things on the ground,” Moran added.

Planning started at the top, in the mayor’s office and with the city’s “Climate Ready Boston Initiative.” It released a comprehensive report in 2016, looking at risk, climate projections, and resilience initiatives. The initiative is headed by Austin Blackmon, chief of environment, energy and open space for the City of Boston, who points to recommendations the city has made to developers.

“Through the city’s zoning code, we were able to say, if you want to build a large building in the City of Boston, not only do you have to take into account what the climate projections are and the floodplains are right now, but you have to look at what those projections are in the future,” Blackmon said. “You have to let us know how you plan to protect your building all the way through its useful life, in addition to making it energy efficient and other goals that we have from a sustainability standpoint.”

But so far there are only conversations and recommendations, not rules and regulations.

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