East Boston is one of Boston’s most vulnerable neighborhoods to the impacts of climate change, particularly sea level rise. It is also home to a thriving and diverse community of residents, many of whom have historically been excluded from the political process. . A wide variety of factors contribute to this disconnect, such as systemic racism, immigration status, language barriers, fear of government, and the inability to participate in community meetings due to the demands of having multiple jobs or caring for family.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Level Rise Projection Report released in February made it clear that we have no time to waste in implementing climate resilience plans for neighborhoods in Boston. Planning, financing and building infrastructure to prevent destruction from projected sea level rise is complex and will take time. Urgency, however, should not stand in the way of a truly inclusive process.
Mayor Michelle Wu presented a platform to make a green future work for all Bostonians and articulated a commitment to community engagement and government accountability. The decision to focus on a plan for the East Boston Municipal Harbor, while shelving plans for downtown, is an exciting signal that the administration is working to deliver on Wu’s promises. city is embarking on this next phase of resilience planning in East Boston, our recent research, Opportunity in the Complexity: Recommendations for Equitable Climate Resilience in East Boston, shows that there are a few key points to focus on. to ensure that this work translates into more equitable adaptation efforts.
▪ Make sure the process is really accessible. Language and cultural barriers have hampered planning efforts in East Boston, where the mother tongue of the majority of residents is not English. The first step is to ensure that it is just as easy to participate in planning efforts in Spanish as it is in English. Additionally, working with a wide range of local organizations and with neutral mediators or facilitators will allow residents to feel more comfortable expressing their hopes and concerns honestly than they would working exclusively with professionals hired from outside the community who have little understanding of local dynamics. . Going to places where people already congregate and doing so in a way that is accessible to all will also promote more open and democratic processes. Using these strategies will provide insight into the assets and strengths of East Boston and the opportunities for community resilience that can be leveraged in planning efforts.
▪ Focus on social resilience, not just physical resilience. While it is essential to develop and implement plans that focus on safeguarding homes and infrastructure, true climate resilience goes beyond the built environment. By creating a space for historically disenfranchised communities to articulate and plan for their key needs and concerns, the City of Boston can cultivate social resilience, which is also key to addressing climate impacts. Challenges like the housing crisis – which severs ties to neighborhoods when people are forced to move frequently – or the ability to access jobs and get paid during and after a storm are also challenges. climate resilience challenges. By expanding the focus beyond the built environment, we can connect technical adaptation solutions to community ideas and priorities and develop more holistic and just adaptation strategies.
▪ Increase the frequency and transparency of success tracking. Through an open democratic planning process, community members can define for themselves what a climate-resilient East Boston looks like. Developing measures based on this definition and frequent monitoring will ensure that, as the measures are implemented, East Boston stays on the path to resilience as defined by the community. If key indicators such as evictions or unemployment start to rise, residents, local organizations, and the city can partner to assess whether implementing climate resilience efforts has contributed to the spikes, address them quickly, and work on them. together to ensure that further implementation does not lead to disturbing changes in the neighborhood.
Our research shows that residents of East Boston care about their neighborhood and value their waterfront, worry about rising sea levels and climate change, and want to ensure that building strategies flood prevention does not lead to accelerated displacement and gentrification. Given the diversity of East Boston, it’s no surprise that there are a wide variety of opinions on how best to make it resilient to the impacts of climate change. With a focus on inclusion, a broad definition of resilience, and transparent tracking, the Wu administration has an exciting opportunity to move toward fair and equitable adjustment in East Boston.
Patricio Belloy is a PhD candidate at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston; Rebecca Herst is director of the Sustainable Solutions Lab at UMass Boston; and Antonio Raciti is an assistant professor in the Department of Urban Planning and Community Development at UMass Boston’s School for the Environment.