Building the World

September 28, 2018
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Coastal Cities, Flooding, and Climate Change

Flooding in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photographer: Gul Cratt, 2006. Image: wikimedia.

Many of the world’s great cities were built as ports, welcoming ships, trade, and opportunity. Singapore is an example. So is New York. Coastal cities must contend with typhoons, hurricanes, rains, and flooding. With climate change, so-called “thousand-year floods” are happening more frequently than such a name might indicate. During Hurricane/Super Storm Sandy, New York saw Wall Street underwater. Another problem? Sea-rise. Here are some of the cities that may suffer inundation: Shanghai, Osaka, Alexandria, Miami,  Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam. Dhaka (19 million) is especially threatened, with danger beyond the capital city: Bangladesh may see 17% of land underwater and 18 million people displaced. Jakarta (10 million) is the fastest-sinking city in the world with 13 rivers merging into Indonesia’s Java Sea on which the coastal capital is located.

Copenhagen rebuilt for climate change . Image: wikimedia

How can coastal cities defend themselves against rising seas and flooding from storms? One approach is rethinking city surfaces from hard asphalt to spongy grass. Copenhagen decided to redesign the city after receiving six inches of rain in two hours during a 2011 storm. Over 300 projects from large parks and greenways, to tiny garden plots with bioswales to absorb rainwater, began the transformation. New York followed suit, forming a partnership with Copenhagen to exchange ideas and measure results. Copenhagen and New York may be cities of different size, but the problems of sea-rise and flooding threaten all coastal cities (and, of course, island states and nations).

But it’s not just physical infrastructure that makes a city resilient. It’s also another kind of infrastructure: governance. The Sustainable Solutions Lab (SSL) in a 2018 report “Governance for a Changing Climate: Adapting Boston’s Built Environment for Increased Flooding” recommended a joint state-municipal commission to deal with increasing climate impact. Governance suggested: 1) reform existing tools including acts and laws; 2) coordinate water/sewer, transport, energy, and telecommunications to a common standards; 3) combine scientists and government agencies in a climate advisory team; 4) establish governance and district-scale flood protection. University of Massachusetts Boston Sustainable Solutions Lab‘s previous reports on Boston included financing solutions to climate change, and a feasibility study of harbor barriers.

Governance for a Changing Climate: Adapting Boston’s Built Environment for Increased Flooding. Sustainable Solutions Lab. Image: Boston’s Zakim Bridge.

Coastal cities might look to Boston’s approach as one model that cities can enact. Cities have a unique capability to address climate change.

According to Michael Bloomberg, three-time mayor of New York, cities can respond faster to climate change because they can pass laws quickly, decide upon structural change, fund urban design initiatives, and coordinate governance. The Global Covenant of Mayors, representing 9,149 cites housing 780,804,596 people worldwide, signed a Climate & Energy agreement to bring cities together to respond to climate change. Bloomberg and European Commission Vice-President Maroš Ṧefcovič co-chair the board; Christiana Figures, architect of the Paris Agreement and founder of Global Optimism, serves as vice-chair. The mission combines initiatives with inclusion to achieve a just, low-emission, resilient future. Cities may be the first responders to climate change.

Barron, James. “New York’s Next Nickname: The Big Sponge?” 27 September 2018. The New York Times.https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/27/nyregion/new-york-flooding.html

Glennon, Robert. “The Unfolding Tragedy of Climate Change in Bangladesh.” 21 April 2017. Scientific American. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-unfolding-tragedy-of-climate-change-in-bangladesh/.

Global Covenant of Mayors. https://www.globalcovenantofmayors.org

Holder, Josh, Niko Kommenda, Jonathan Watts, “The three-degree world: the cities that will be drowned by global warming.” 3 November 2017. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/ng-interactive/2017/nov/03/three-degree-world-cities-drowned-global-warming/.

Kruel, Stephanie, VHB; Rebecca Herst, Sustainable Solutions Lab; David Cash, McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. Sustainable Solutions Lab, University of Massachusetts Boston, “Governance for a Changing Climate: Adopting Boston’s Built Environment for Increased Flooding.” https://www.umb.edu/editor_uploads/images/centers_institutes/sustainable_solutions_lab/Governance-for-a-Changing-Climate-Full-Report-UMB-SSL.pdf

Lin, Mayuri Mei, and Raki Hidayat. “Jakarta, the fastest-sinking city in the world.” 13 August 2018, BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-44636934/.

University of Massachusetts Boston, “Governance for a Changing Climate” 28 September 2018. https://www.umb.edu/news/detail/umass_boston_report_laws_revamp_for_good_governance_in_climate_change_era.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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August 27, 2018
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Art of Change

Times Square, New York City. Image: wikimedia

Climate change can be difficult to picture. That may be why, in part, politicians and citizens alike find it hard to grasp, and even more challenging to take action. But what if Mel Chin‘s “Unmoored” caught your eye? Displayed in Times Square, New York City, the artist’s work addresses the prediction that by the year 2100, six feet of water may slosh the great white way. Urban denizens, and tourists, can download the app, pointing a phone camera at various structures to see which ones will be afloat, and where boats may replace taxis and other vehicles. Will lessons from the Netherlands be part of the solution?

Will Miami soon be underwater? Image: wikimedia

Or maybe you prefer winters in Florida. This December, Xavier Cortada‘s “Underwater HOA” campaign invites residents of Pinecrest to place signs on their lawns showing how many feet of water will need to rise before inundating their property. Watercolor paintings that serve as background on the signs will be made with the very melted glacier water that the campaign hopes to stop. The installation opens in December. One month later, January 9, 2019, the signs will come down but the work will start: a citizens’ organization will meet at Cortada’s house to address climate change in the area of Miami. Can the invisible be made visible? What is the art of change?

For more: “12 Artists On Climate Change: A dozen artistic responses to one of the greatest threats of our time.” By Zoë Lescaze. 22 August 2018.  T AGITPROP The New York Times.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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December 22, 2017
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Sinking Cities

Jakarta: originally Jayakarta or “Victorious City.” Muhammad Rashid Prabowo, photographer, Wikimedia commons.

Jakarta is sinking; sections of Indonesia’s capital city have lost 2 inches per year. Buildings in this dense city of 10 million people weigh down coastal land. Residential and business development increased demand for drinking water. Drilled wells, legal and illegal, caused the city to sink further. Draining urban underground aquifers is “like deflating a giant cushion.” Experts warn Jakarta must fix the problem within this decade. Climate change is worsening the situation: sea-rise could bring water even closer, as much 36 inches. Other cities may take note. Subsidence plagues Mexico City, built on a drained lakebed. Boston, shaped by landfill, contends with subsidence as well as sea-rise. New York is vulnerable to storm surge. The Erie Canal linking New York to the Great Lakes may hold promise as inland waterways play a new role in water protection. Inland Waterways International may offer innovations.  Coastal cities might find guidance from the Urban Harbors Institute in Boston. The East Coast of the United States is particularly vulnerable to sea-rise because of the steep sea-level slope just offshore that keeps the Gulf Stream channeled. Climate scientists place New  York, Boston, Norfolk, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami on the watch list. Put a price on it? Coastal storm “Sandy” flooding New York and New Jersey in 2012 cost $50 billion. Sea-level rise brings inundation, flooding, erosion, wetlands loss, saltwater intrusion, and damaged sanitation systems. Meanwhile, Jakarta is sinking faster than any city on the planet. As goes Jakarta, so may go other coastal communities. When the problem is solved, Jakarta will give new meaning to its original Javanese name: Jayakarta or “Victorious City.”

Brown, Sally, Robert J. Nicholls, Collin D. Woodroffe, Susan Hanson, Jochen Hinkel, Abiy S. Kebede, Barbara Neumann, Athanasios T. Vafeidis. “Sea-Level Rise Impacts and Response: A Global Perspective.” Coastal Hazards, edited by Charles W. Finkl. Springer, 2013.  http://www.springer.com/us/book/9789400752337/.

Climate Central. “These U.S. Cities Are Most Vulnerable to Major Coastal Flooding and Sea Level Rise” 25 October 2017. http://www.climatecentral.org/news/us-cities-most-vulnerable-major-coastal-flooding-sea-level-rise-21748. 

Crowell, Mark, Jonathan Westcott, Susan Phelps, Tucker Mahoney, Kevin Coulton, Doug Bellow. “Estimating the United States Population at Risk from Coastal Flood-Related Hazards.” Coastal Hazards, edited by Charles W. Finkl, pp. 245-66. Springer. DOI:10.1007/978-94-007-5234-4.

Kemp, Andrew C. and Benjamin P. Horton. “Contribution of relative sea-level rise to historical hurricane flooding in New York City.” Journal of Quaternary Science 28.6:537-541.

Kimmelman, Michael. “Jakarta Is Sinking So Fast, It Could End Up Underwater.” 21 December 2017. The New York Timeshttps://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/21/world/asia/jakarta-sinking-climate.html

Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR). “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.” 11 June 2013. http://www.nyc.gov/html/sirr/html/report/report.shtml/

Yin, Jianjun, Michael E. Schlesinger, ad Ronald J. Stouffer. “Model projections of rapid sea-level rise on the northeast coast of the United States.” Nature Geoscience. 15 March 2009. DOI:10.1038/NGEO462. http://www.meteo.mcgill.ca/~huardda/articles/yin09.pdf

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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September 30, 2017
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Canals: building the future

Caño Martín Peña  may offer a vision for the future. Help Puerto Rico now. Image: wikipedia.

Caño Martín Peña stretches 3.75 miles linking wetlands and canals to rivers meeting the sea of San Juan Bay, Puerto Rico. In 2004, eight communities along the canal incorporated to protect the canal, and dredge the channel; in 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Urban Waters Federal Partnership issued a nueva vida – new life- vision for the canal. Rebuilding Puerto Rico, after recent hurricane destruction, may increase awareness of canals in flood mitigation. According to Inland Waterways International, canals create economic and environmental benefits, as well as locally-generated electric power. The World Canal Cities Organization recently met in Shaobo, China to explore the Grand Canal, busiest in the world, and building block of the Belt and Road InitiativePanama and Suez are also notable. The Erie Canal opened the United States to a new era of development; the New York Canal Corporation worked with the World Canals Conference to host the 2017 conference on the Erie Canal in Syracuse, New York. What should the future hold for the world’s canals? How might Puerto Rico lead the way? Enlace and the Caño Martín Peña Ecosystem Restoration Project aim to improve 6,600 acres of the San Juan Bay, and the lives of those near its waters. In the future, canals may help coastal cities weather rising seas, allowing the water in as in Rotterdam. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico looks for help now, and leadership in the future, perhaps including a new vision of canals.

To help Puerto Rico:https://www.consumerreports.org/charitable-donations/how-you-can-help-hurricane-victims-in-puerto-rico/ and http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/can-help-hurricane-victims-puerto-rico/

Urban Waters Federal Partnership, “New Life for the Martín Peña Channel.”https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/martinpenabackgrounder_0.pdf

Building the World, “A River Runs Through It.” http://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2017/06/16/a-river-runs-through-it/

Kimmelman, Michael. “Going With the Flow.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/arts/design/flood-control-in-the-netherlands-now-allows-sea-water-in.html?mcubz=3

Inland Waterways International, “World Wide Waterways.” http://inlandwaterwaysinternational.org/blog/

New York Canal Corporation, http://www.canals.ny.gov

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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September 1, 2017
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Water Crisis

September 1, 2017: Hurricane Harvey moves from Texas to Tennessee. Image: Nasa.gov. Here’s how to help.

Hurricane Harvey pelted Houston, Texas with twenty-seven trillion gallons of water. Homes, schools, hospitals, roads were damaged. But when a hurricane causes power outages, another kind of water problem occurs. Beaumont, Texas got 29 inches of rain from Harvey, knocking out the town’s water pumping station on the swollen Neches River, leaving 120,000 people without drinking water. While major beverage manufacturers switched their production lines from beer to cans of water,  to care for the thousands who had to evacuate their homes and flee to shelters, Beaumont can’t get this emergency relief: roads are flooded, making Beaumont a temporary island. Rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey might include study of post-Sandy New York, guided in part by the Netherlands. Meanwhile, here’s how to help.

Boulder, Michael. “The entire city of Beaumont, Texas, has lost access to clean water.” 31 August 2017, PBS. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/entire-city-beaumont-texas-lost-access-clean-water/

Tillman, Claire. “Anheuser-Busch repurposes its brewery to make drinking water for Harvey victims.” 30 Augut, 2017. Fortune. http://fortune.com/2017/08/30/hurricane-harvey-houston-water-anheuser-busch/

Building the World. “A river runs through it.” http://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2017/06/16/a-river-runs-through-it/

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June 16, 2017
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A River Runs Through It

Rebuilding cities to let the water in may result in innovations, including rowing commuters. Image: Wikimedia.

Coastal cities combating sea rise often respond by building barriers. But the Dutch, experts on inundation since the earliest days, have a different idea: letting the water in. Rotterdam, once the world’s largest port, is a city 90% below sea level. The city’s solution to sea rise includes creation of the Eendragtspolder, with water sports featuring the World Rowing Championships. Giving water more places to flow has rebuilt the Netherlands: a systems approach includes new views of space, rebuilding gates and bridges, redesigning sewers, linking social media, and incorporating climate response in primary education (children learn to swim wearing clothing and shoes). After Hurricane Sandy, the Dutch helped New York rethink lower Manhattan; Bangladesh benefited from advice that reduced fatalities during floods. It’s about anticipating, rather than avoiding, crises. To be sure, flood gates have their place, proven by Maeslantkering, a storm barrier bigger than two Eiffel Towers. But the Dutch are more about going with the flow: rebuilding land on water means dikes with shopping malls, even floating dairy farms. China’s Grand Canal might provide inspiration on the benefits of letting water shape strategy. Boston to Bangladesh, Rhode Island to Rotterdam, coastal areas might find innovation and opportunity in going Dutch.

Kimmelman, Michael. “Climate Change Isn’t Just a Fact for the Dutch. It’s an Opportunity” in the Changing Climate, Changing Cities series. 15 June 2017, The New York Timeshttps://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/15/world/europe/climate-change-rotterdam.html?_r=0

Peirce, Neal R., Curtis W. Johnson, with Farley M. Peters. Century of the City: No Time to Lose. The Rockefeller Foundation, 2008. ISBN: 0891840729.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licen

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June 8, 2017
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The Deep Frontier

Mulloidichthys vanicolensis, Coral reef, Guam, Mariana islands. NOAA Coral Kingdom Collection: Photographer, David Burdock. Wikimedia commons.

World oceans may be the deep frontier; we have explored just 5% of the seas that give name to the water planet. Great cities were built for ocean access: Amsterdam, port of the Netherlands; Singapore, hub of the trade winds; New York, joined inland by the Erie Canal, celebrating its 200th anniversary. Other ocean to inland waterways include the Grand Canal of China, the world’s longest; Suez and Panama, both led by Ferdinand de Lessups. Will the Channel Tunnel inspire a TransAtlantic HyperloopOcean Portal, by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, offers educational resources for teachers and students. June 8 marks World Oceans Day, when over 100 countries honor, and protect, our oceans.

For the 5% of the oceans we have explored, and the future of our oceans: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/exploration.html

For World Oceans Day: http://www.worldoceansday.org

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licen

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June 3, 2016
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Flood Gates of Hope

“The Louvre Museum with its Glass Pyramid.” Photographer: Hteink.min, 2012. Image: wikimedia commons.

The Louvre Museum, situated on the banks of the River Seine, closed its doors today in the height of the visitor season. Reason? the river is flooding, six meters above normal, endangering artworks in the path of possible impending inundation. On Friday, 3 June 2016, the venerable Louvre barred entrance while staff moved art. France declared a state of natural disaster. More than 25,000 people are without electricity; in Nemours, 3,000 evacuated their homes. Europe’s rains affected Germany, where at least 10 people perished; Romania, where 2 lost their lives; France, where 2 others succumbed; and Belgium, where a beekeeper trying to save hives was swept away.  In the future, can seasonal rains be addressed by systems such as that pioneered by Baghwati Argrawal and Sustainable Innovations? Or perhaps following the example of the Dutch coastlines protected by water defense? Is there a need for a version of the dike army apart of the European Erasmus program? Could the Charlemagne Prize, bestowed upon Pope Francis in 2016, be awarded to the most promising innovation for catching and keeping flood water, to use in alternating times of drought, for a continent united by its rivers? Will other areas of the world, suffering from less or excess of water, find ways to open the flood gates of hope?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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May 6, 2016
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Mine the Gap

A year might make a lifetime of difference. Image: peacecorps.gov.

When a first daughter decided upon a gap year, the world voiced opinion. Some worried that a year off assumed privilege; others expressed admiration for benefits of time in the ‘real world’ of work, experience, travel, service, or specialized training. Balancing gown and town, in 1209, King John hired a French engineer and cleric who “in a short time hath wrought in regard to the Bridges of Xainctes and Rochelle, by the great care and pains of our faithful, learned and worthy Clerk, Isenbert, Master of the Schools of Xainctes” to build London Bridge. Charlemagne’s engagement with Alcuin, or the Netherland’s institution of the Dike Army (“ende alman sal ten menen werke comen op den dijc“), are examples of study and service. The medieval guilds combined learning, doing, and regional travel; Erasmus today is reminiscent. City Year Americorps offers options with college scholarships; Tufts 4+1 includes a Bridge Year. Roebling, builder of the Brooklyn Bridge, discovered a new idea when hiking in Bamberg on a student vacation. The University of Massachusetts Boston offers support for travel and scholarship to nations and locations featured in Building the World, through the Building a Better World Fund. Many ‘gap’ programs involve travel: Frank P. Davidson, whose early experience in Mexico has been cited as forerunner to the Peace Corps, suggested an interplanetary year. To fulfill the global vision of the Paris Agreement COP21, environment, governance, and industry may transform through engaged education.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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November 3, 2014
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Swan Boats on Comm Ave?

 

Boston’s Swan Boats. Image: wikimedia commons.

Rising sea levels may encourage coastal cities, like New York, Miami, or Boston, to consider letting the waters in — via the building of canals. Much of Boston’s land was reclaimed from the sea originally. Now, the Urban Land Institute, in a report on environmental change, suggests that everything old may be new again. What innovations might result if Boston were the new Amsterdam? Will Swan Boats soon sail on Commonwealth Avenue?

For more: http://boston.uli.org/news/uli-report-makes-waves/

Thanks: Joe LaRosa, Evan Litwin and Zoe Quinn for suggestions.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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