My God! It's full of Gondolas!
October 31, 2014 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Sea levels are rising, the land is sinking. It's going to become a big problem for some cities on the US East Coast, so in Boston people are thinking the unthinkable - copying Venice and Amsterdam, and becoming a city of canals.

The Urban Land Institute brought together over 70 experts from varying disciplines and gave them the task of starting the discussion of how the city of Boston could adapt itself to a potential 7 foot sea level rise by the year 2100.

The result was The Urban Implictions of Living with Water (pdf).

Other coverage:
* With climate change, Boston's future could be filled with gondolas
* Venice on the Charles (Boston Globe, possible paywall)
posted by 1367 (49 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
You fools! That's just what they want!
posted by leotrotsky at 10:25 AM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


HAHVAHD BOAT YAHD
posted by I-baLL at 10:42 AM on October 31, 2014 [31 favorites]


Hovercraft and Zeppelins! C'mon!
posted by poe at 10:46 AM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


William Irwin Thompson wrote about this idea in connection with New Orleans back in 2005 (scroll down to bottom).
posted by goethean at 10:49 AM on October 31, 2014


Note that addressing the problem in a way that we know has worked for other major world cities is unthinkable. Legislating active ignorance of the problem, a la North Carolina, is more in line with what we expect.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:50 AM on October 31, 2014 [10 favorites]


This seems like an incredibly genteel way of dealing with catastrophe. Like taking the opportunity of your house being on fire to hold a fondue evening.
posted by sobarel at 10:53 AM on October 31, 2014 [25 favorites]


Just move inland, stupid.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:54 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


The first step is fitting the crew teams for jaunty straw hats.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:55 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


instructive to note that they kind of glossed over the issue of what to do with displaced automobiles. Venice has been successful in part because they have a centuries-old tradition of severely restricting / disallowing personal vehicles (horses, carriages, automobiles) within the confines of central downtown.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:57 AM on October 31, 2014


canals and gondolas cannot possibly be any worse than the green line
posted by poffin boffin at 11:00 AM on October 31, 2014 [31 favorites]


Eh, in a canal Boston future I think getting rid of cars would be the least of our worries. Boston's much much older and denser than other American cities and a lot of the new building boom that's going on is being done with fairly low parking set asides.
posted by Diablevert at 11:04 AM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


instructive to note that they kind of glossed over the issue of what to do with displaced automobiles.

Bury them all in the flooded Big Dig tunnels?
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:10 AM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


I personally believe the gondolier lobby is behind global warming.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:12 AM on October 31, 2014 [6 favorites]


It'll be awesome when the Marathon turns into an Iron Man competition. Swim down 13 miles of Comm Ave!
posted by Elementary Penguin at 11:12 AM on October 31, 2014 [6 favorites]


...copying Venice and Amsterdam...

Venice and Amsterdam are entirely different. Venice can't control the water level in their canals, and sometimes the city gets flooded in the spring. Also, they don't control water flow, and the water gets grotty. Sometimes the city is engulfed in insects. A lot of the time the canal water stinks.

Amsterdam's canals are run with typical Dutch engineering efficiency. It's on a river, and the whole system is connected to the river with gates above the city and again below it. The water in Amsterdam's canals doesn't get gross because it's all flushed six times a week. And the water level is controlled very closely, so no flooding.

Also, there aren't any gondolas in Amsterdam.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:14 AM on October 31, 2014 [17 favorites]


And as a bonus side effect, this will increase habitat for Charles River whitefish.
posted by bendybendy at 11:17 AM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


You've seen the Big Dig---now prepare for the Big Row.
posted by resurrexit at 11:24 AM on October 31, 2014


The Big Dredge.

Venice can't control the water level in their canals


Soon they will be able to

And yes, there are gondolas in Amsterdam. Arguably there should not be, but that's another matter.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:41 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


instructive to note that they kind of glossed over the issue of what to do with displaced automobiles.

Just like with the big bike lane expansions, people would fight this because it removes street parking.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:45 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also: "nobody drives [in Boston], there's too much traffic!"
posted by backseatpilot at 11:47 AM on October 31, 2014




This seems like an incredibly genteel way of dealing with catastrophe. Like taking the opportunity of your house being on fire to hold a fondue evening.

Well, in some ways this is a blessing in disguise. The biggest problem in the Boston Back Bay is that the wooden pilings underneath the homes risk contracting rot if they're allowed to go dry, so the Charles River dam system is run specifically to keep the water table high enough. And most of the rest of greater Boston is on high enough land that there's little reason to worry.
posted by ocschwar at 12:03 PM on October 31, 2014


That said, we are certain to lose Logan Airport. Notice that "pike canal"? That's I-93, aka the Big Dig, getting flooded and useless. Along with it are the Red, Orange and Blue line tunnels that will be too expensive to pump dry.

We have a problem we cannot afford to ignore.
posted by ocschwar at 12:04 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sea level rise has no upper boundary. Canals would be a short term solution.
posted by stbalbach at 12:25 PM on October 31, 2014


Sea level rise has no upper boundary. Canals would be a short term solution.

Don't be silly. Of course there is an upper boundary. There is only so much frozen ice in the world. Once it's all melted, that's as high as it's going to go unless we get hit by more icy comets or we move the moon in closer so we get higher tides.
posted by HappyEngineer at 12:29 PM on October 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


In an alternate universe, the Boston Molasses Flood was never cleaned up, and residents decided they liked the romance of a brown high viscosity canal and just started dumping perfectly good sugar byproducts on the ground.

Really ruined the marathon, though.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:37 PM on October 31, 2014 [7 favorites]


Actually, some quick googling indicates that heat expansion actually does have a significant effect on water volume (http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/critical-issues-sea-level-rise/). Of course, that effect stops when the water is boiling, but if it's that hot then we're probably all dead anyway. In any case, the estimates I saw said that less than 2 meters was likely by 2100 with 7 meters as being a longshot outside limit.
posted by HappyEngineer at 12:37 PM on October 31, 2014


On top of this, Boston has seen an increase in rain and snow over the past few decades and has to contend with the fact that the whole of the US East Coast is sinking as the West Coast around the San Andreas Fault rises.
I have only the vaguest grasp of plate tectonics, so I like to think this was discovered when someone dropped a marble in the billiard-table-like expanses of Kansas and watch it slowly roll toward Missouri. "Uh, guys?"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:39 PM on October 31, 2014 [15 favorites]


No canal story is complete without Robert Benchley
posted by IndigoJones at 12:39 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Might as well start training for the Boston Marathon 2040 now!
posted by blue_beetle at 12:50 PM on October 31, 2014


lonefrontranger: instructive to note that they kind of glossed over the issue of what to do with displaced automobiles. Venice has been successful in part because they have a centuries-old tradition of severely restricting / disallowing personal vehicles (horses, carriages, automobiles) within the confines of central downtown.
Pretty sure the 7' flooding will restrict those vehicles fairly well.

Maybe a couple of signs saying, "If this sign is underwater no driving!", as a backup measure.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:54 PM on October 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


Notice that "pike canal"? That's I-93, aka the Big Dig, getting flooded and useless.

While the Big Dig probably would get flooded and useless (something that's already happened like twice), the "pike canal" is the Mass Turnpike AKA I-90, flooded but probably still ferrying people to points West.
posted by davros42 at 12:54 PM on October 31, 2014


That said, we are certain to lose Logan Airport.

Nonsense.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:59 PM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


Maybe a couple of signs saying, "If this sign is underwater no driving!", as a backup measure.

Won't stop the students and their fucking U-Hauls.
posted by ocschwar at 1:13 PM on October 31, 2014 [5 favorites]


Guys it's OK they can just move I-93 above ground!
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:26 PM on October 31, 2014 [7 favorites]


Sounds like a good idea for Annapolis, although they're only expected to be flooded 225 times a year in the next 30 years.
posted by MtDewd at 1:32 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Maybe a couple of signs saying, "If this sign is underwater no driving!", as a backup measure.

There actually is a sign on Route 2 that says "Caution: Solar glare in A.M." We really do need these obvious reminders.

Notice that "pike canal"? That's I-93, aka the Big Dig, getting flooded and useless.

Don't forget Morrissey Boulevard, which floods even when there's only a little rain.
posted by Melismata at 1:59 PM on October 31, 2014


Never mind Boston, just think of the people surfing between the half-submerged skyscrapers of Long Beach and San Diego. The rich looking down on the surfing contests from their high-security penthouses, the poor on their rickity flotilla s scavenged from junk...

It just writes itself. Pity I already have my NaNoWriMo project.
posted by happyroach at 2:16 PM on October 31, 2014


When life hands you lemons, make limoncello.
posted by mondo dentro at 2:54 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sea level rise has no upper boundary. Canals would be a short term solution.

Yeah, as much as this thread as had some major LOLs (quite unexpectedly for a thread about catastrophic global warming), canals seem to be a short-term, poorly-thought-out and socially regressive solution that "financial planners and business leaders in the brain-storming sessions" (to quote the BBC article) would come up with.

I mean, nice idea, and I wish it would work out, but that sea gonna keep a'rising.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 3:18 PM on October 31, 2014


Beg to differ!
posted by Navelgazer at 3:57 PM on October 31, 2014


The area that is of concern is called "Back Bay" which is exactly what it was originally. Original Boston, the current 'financial district' and Beacon hill was essentially a small rocky island at the end of a spit of land. The swamp all along each side of the spit was filled in. With dirt. The spit, sort of the end of the marathon route is probably rock but the swamp will certainly be reclaimed by nature. Changing from barely moving cars idling in front of boutiques to nice boats puttering along upscale shops would probably make little economic or social difference.
posted by sammyo at 5:16 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


But not quite yet. I also hang on a wharf that is quite level with the sea at astronomical maximum high tide. At least the old guys that have observed it carefully over decades do not seem imminently concerned. I'm not a 'skeptic' but the dynamics of the ocean are vastly more complex than any current predictive model.
posted by sammyo at 5:20 PM on October 31, 2014


That said, we are certain to lose Logan Airport.

Having had the misfortune to fly through Boston a few times, I'd say that this would be a net gain.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:23 PM on October 31, 2014


What about during winter? I mean, I know it'll be seawater, but Boston does get cold enough for that to freeze, right? Hopefully the ice is thick enough for ice skating.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:54 PM on October 31, 2014


No, seawater doesn't freeze there. Or at least it never did during the 10 years I lived there.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:46 PM on October 31, 2014


Chocolate Pickle: "No, seawater doesn't freeze there. Or at least it never did during the 10 years I lived there."

OK, fair enough, but what about this? Specifically the first and last photos.

Also, I see that the freezing point of seawater is 28.4F or -2C. Seems unlikely to me that Boston rarely gets that cold, but I've never lived there and only been there in the summer, so I freely admit that I could be wrong.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:04 AM on November 1, 2014


Water retains heat much better than air. Air temperatures in Boston in the winter dip below 28 degrees on the regular, sure. But in order to put a layer of ice on seawater you need it to not only get below that but to stay below that for several days in a row, and that's much rarer. Besides, the whole premise here is that the world's going to be warmer over all, making such sustained freezes even less likely.
posted by Diablevert at 9:54 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also, I have it on good authority that the ice of Boston is muddy and reflects no light, which suggests that it must exist.
posted by aaronetc at 7:03 PM on November 1, 2014


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