District 1 City Councilor Gabriela Coletta delivered her maiden speech on the council floor recently while offering an order for a hearing regarding a comprehensive, district-wide planning process for Boston’s waterfront.
“Today, I rise for the first time with excitement, optimism, and endless love for the city and its people,” Coletta began. “I’m hopeful for the future we can and will create for future generations with creativity and innovation and while I’m incredibly excited for the future of this city, I am keenly aware of the unique challenges ahead.”
Coletta said as the city looks directly into the face of what is a local threat to us all, and millions around the world–sea level rise due to climate change–she is worried about our future.
“The progress we built both in our physical infrastructure as well as in our human infrastructure through the dismantling of oppressive systems and structures will all be for naught if we do not plan proactively to protect the resiliency of our coastline,” said Coletta. “So today and thinking of our collective future, I rise with urgency and I rise with the intention to expedite the conversation in implementing a comprehensive district wide planning process for Boston’s waterfront.”
Coletta said Boston is extremely lucky to have a natural and environmental treasure that is our harbor.
“The waterfront became a necessary economic engine during the industrial era and over the years as the city expanded, contracted and expanded again, our waterfront has remained an industrial hub while also enjoying welcome investments into beautiful parks and open spaces on the water’s edge,” she said. “I think of places that I frequented as a child with my Abuela, like Piers Park and the iconic look LoPresti Park, with their sweeping views of Boston’s skyline. We all have the right to access and enjoy Boston’s tide lands protected by the Public Waterfront Act.”
However, Coletta cautioned that despite these projections our waterfront is under intense pressure, both due to coastal flooding and private interests that seek to commodify its duty.
“District One in particular faces pressures,” said Coletta. “East Boston, Charlestown, the North End are all coastal communities that for generations have borne significant burdens and environmental injustices. We face being hit first and worst by negative impacts of climate change in the coming years and the data is out there and it’s unsettling. The Gulf of Maine, including its smaller cousin Massachusetts Bay, is the fastest warming body of ocean on the planet.”
Due to this data Coletta said Boston faces the greatest risk of flooding with more than 45% of the city’s critical infrastructure at risk.
“This includes our hospitals, schools, police and fire stations,” she said. “This is expected to increase by 20% by 2051. As we prepare for sea level rise, we must prioritize waterfront planning that dictates any new development while incorporating a strong plan for resiliency. We are dealing with a compounding displacement crisis, both due to development and gentrification. Looking to the very near future about 11,000 people, a majority of them low income and people of color, will soon be displaced due to coastal flooding and the city has a significant role to play in planning for our future to fortify our coastline and mitigate the effects of storm surges in stormwater runoff.”
Coletta believes the city can achieve increased resiliency without depending on investments from private entities or developers.
“The urgent need for coastal flooding does consider the need for a holistic plan to solve our housing process,” she said. “I am pleased to see the recent announcement by Mayor Michelle Wu to launch an Municipal Harbor Plan (MHP) for East Boston, that prioritizes waterfront resiliency and equity and I do look forward to partnering with her administration on this work. But while we consider next steps for this process, there are significant lessons to be learned from the downtown waterfront MHP that occurred between 2013 and 2017.”
Coletta said first the city must be able to meet the sea to take in water by using both passive and active permeable landscape landscapes.
“Let’s utilize contemporary resiliency strategies seen around the world as applied in cities in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Venice,” she said. “I know Boston is a competitive city. So I hope when I say that we are behind the tap on this it will dawn on people. It will dawn on people that we are behind and that we seriously need to act urgently.”
“Whatever happens through this process – it needs to be community-led, with an emphasis on centering the needs of residents for what their vision is for the waterfront… to help define the framework that developers must adhere to if they intend on building on our waterfront,” she added. “We need a plan that takes into consideration modern resilience strategies through an equity lens that sets our vision to guide any new proposals.”