Mayor Martin J. Walsh came to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce with a big ask for the business community: Help prepare Boston for rising sea levels and more frequent furious storms brought about by climate change.
So far, so good.
The speech Wednesday morning received a prolonged standing ovation. And in the usual post-speech receiving line, Walsh says he heard from a number of business people, from insurance to development, who told him they want to do their part.
“Everyone who came up to me, they all came up and they said they’re in,” Walsh said later. “That’s encouraging.”
Figuring out how to pay for it all is another question. Walsh’s vision will inevitably cost well over $1 billion over time and take more than a decade to realize. Rather than one massive solution for the entire city — a giant seawall shielding the harbor — he chose a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach to shoring up the coastline.
Developers say they want to help, but they also don’t want to carry the whole burden. Toward that end, Walsh committed 10 percent of the city’s annual capital spending, or at least $16 million a year, toward climate resiliency efforts.
One model for a public-private partnership can be found along the Fort Point Channel. Walsh unveiled plans for a channel park at the Chamber of Commerce a year ago. Since then, city officials have started discussions with property owners along the channel. Procter & Gamble, for example, is in talks with the Walsh administration to turn a half-acre of its Gillette waterfront property into a park that doubles as a buffer. And the $13 million Martin’s Park, next to the Children’s Museum, is being built with a combination of public and private funds.
In his speech, Walsh argued that spending on prevention will be more cost effective than spending on restoration. For example, he said allocating $1 billion to protect South Boston now could save the city close to $20 billion down the line if a big storm hits.
“He characterized it in financial business terms that spoke to this audience,” said James Rooney, the chamber’s chief executive. “This is a compelling challenge, there’s a cost to it, and we’re all in it together.”