Boston, Massachusetts

Boston transforms historic waterfront district

A Boston redevelopment has transformed the waterfront district while improving the city's flood resilience. The 16-story mixed-use building at 6 New Street, which opened in 2016, replaced a crumbling warehouse with a structure designed to withstand salt air, severe weather and rising sea levels. Flood mitigation features—including reinforced entrances, a raised footprint and a seawall—will reduce the flood risks to the building during storm events, while new fishing piers, rain gardens and a harbor walkway have turned the once fenced-off space into a desirable waterfront location.

Photo: Stantec Architecture

Community facts

Population
667,137
Homes
272,481
Businesses
59,268
Source: US Census Bureau.

Mitigation actions

Resilience strategies—including raising the 267,150-sq-ft structure by 9", locating the electrical room above the 500-year flood elevation, installing an emergency generator on the roof and reinforcing the granite seawall—lowered the cost of insurance premiums and deductibles. Designers worked closely with city officials to ensure that the project would be “built to last” rather than “built to code,” helping to expedite the entitlement process.

The project, which was designed to reconnect the Boston community to the waterfront in East Boston, includes environmental and quality-of-life benefits such as restored access to the Boston Harborwalk, increased public open spaces, reduced emissions, new docks and fishing stations, and new water taxi transportation. Flood mitigation designs fit the project budget due to careful planning and a focus on sustainability. For example, soil collected from digging foundations was used to raise the grade, thereby eliminating trucking costs while reducing the expense of raising the structure.

Benefits of mitigation

Economic benefits
$9 million
Total monetized benefits
Energy
$150,000
Annual energy cost savings
Rental premiums estimate
2-18%
Estimated premium for rental units
Source: Urban Land Institute: Returns on Resilience: The Business Case. ULI Center for Sustainability. Washington, D.C.: ULI, 2015.

Project challenges

“Regulatory barriers had to be factored into planning to avoid bottlenecks during construction,” notes architect Zach Pursley of Stantec, the project design firm

The development team was challenged by zoning regulations that control and dictate permissible activity on coastal and inland waterways in Massachusetts. Factoring these issues into the project plan helped the team to align its design choices with regulatory requirements to expedite delivery and win stakeholder approval.

The developers, the mayor and other city officials established great communication that streamlined conversations and facilitated key decision touchpoints. Early on in the project, the team of architects, engineers and managers met with Boston's sustainability officials to brainstorm about what types of sustainability features were feasible and would mitigate flood risk.

“It’s about finding creative design solutions—not just putting up a barrier, but integrating the water with the project to make it a place that people want to go and experience and enjoy”
Zach Pursley, Stantec

Future considerations

Architectural illustration and vision of what the waterside may look like.
Image: Stantec Architecture
The new mixed-use structure is expected to deliver financial and social benefits for decades to come

The project's sustainable design choices are expected to deliver long-term financial benefits to owners and renters. The designers expect the resilient construction to reduce insurance premiums and energy costs, prevent business interruptions, and avoid expenses from damages, thanks to flood mitigation features.

The project's insurance underwriter, Affiliated FM, estimates that the resilience strategies could reduce the flood-loss expectancy from $10 million to $1 million, which equates to a significant drop in insurance premiums.

Flood mitigation resources

Below is a non-exhaustive list of other flood mitigation information resources.