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Ideas | Anthony Flint

Letting a thousand flowers bloom: innovations in building climate resilience

A man walked slowly through a flooded sidewalk off Congress Street, where water was flowing over from Fort Point Channel, in March 2018.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff, file

In the absence of a nationwide plan to prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change, cities are going it alone — an extraordinary mobilization led by local governments, private landowners and developers, architects and engineers, and foundations and think tanks. Here’s a sampling of the innovative projects they have come up with — and two international examples of work at a larger scale:

Pioneer and Blackstone Valley initiatives. It’s not only the big cities that need to prepare for extreme weather and floods. Inland, post-industrial metropolitan regions such as Worcester must protect against climate impacts.


Governor’s Island and Freshkills Park. Both redevelopments — the latter a 150-million-ton landfill trash heap turned into a 2,200-acre park on Staten Island — are already showing results for New York City, while the Big U scheme around Lower Manhattan has struggled with logistical and cost issues.

Hoboken Resiliency Plan. New Jersey is taking climate change very seriously, and Hoboken has become a national model — with an assist by resilience impresario Henk Ovink — for using parks as the means to absorb floodwaters, while ensuring all future development is future-proofed.

Healthy Port Futures. An initiative associated with the Great Lakes Protection Fund will change the protocols for dredging waterways, building storm resilience while also using excavated sediment to shore up threatened ecosystems and natural habitats.

GreenPlan Philadelphia. Vacant land in an urban neighborhood got repurposed as green infrastructure to reduce stormwater pollution entering the combined sewer system.

Holland’s Room for the River project. In the Dutch tradition of living with water, this initiative involves “softening” river deltas to handle increased flows and relocating thousands of people from flood-prone areas that must be reclaimed to act as natural sponges.


Great Green Wall of Africa. Initially proposed under the auspices of the UN and World Bank, and fine-tuned by 11 participating countries, this tree-planting exercise will form a nearly 5,000-mile belt spanning the width of Africa at sub-Saharan latitude.