Seaport: Boondoggle or model for future?

Is the glass half full or half empty?

The biggest Boston building boom in decades has been playing out in the city’s Seaport, a once forlorn 1,000-acre stretch of warehouses and parking lots at the edge of downtown that has seen glassy towers sprout like weeds in recent years.

While political leaders strut proudly over the billions of dollars of new development going up in the district, a slightly different note is being sounded by some planning experts, whose reaction to all the building seems to be, “Are these people out of their minds?”

The latter view is certainly the one advanced by a Bloomberg Businessweek article — at least in its attention-grabbing headline, “Boston Built a New Waterfront Just in Time for The Apocalypse.”

The not-too-subtle headline sits atop a story that raises questions about the wisdom of unleashing massive development on a stretch of coastline in the face of dire projections of a climate-change-induced rise in sea levels.

“No American city has left such a large swath of expensive new oceanfront real estate and infrastructure exposed to the worst the environment has to offer,” the article says, attributing that take to Chuck Watson, owner of Enki Research, which assesses risks for insurers, investors, and governments.

Since 1980, the article says, Boston has experienced more high-tide flooding than any other city along the East Coast. Most ominously, William Sweet, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tells the authors that Boston Harbor could be 2 to 4 feet higher by the end of the century.

“There is a lot of hubris,” Spencer Glendon, of the Woods Hole Research Center, which studies climate change, tells Bloomberg Businessweek. “There is nothing more exciting for a city government than seeing lots of tall buildings going up and going to lots of ribbon-cuttings. Everyone knows South Boston keeps flooding, and they keep building.”

Getting a hard-to-resist mention in the story: The January 2018 image of a Dumpster floating down a flooded street in the what was then called the Innovation District, which the Herald promptly renamed the “Inundation District” in its headline on the storm.

The alarms sounded by the article headline and opening making it seem as if development has taken off in the Seaport with leaders oblivious to the possible disaster looming on the literal and figurative horizon. But that’s not actually the case. The piece goes on to detail all the ways that Seaport development is trying to plan for such risks, including housing critical infrastructure on higher floors and planning berms and other barriers against future flooding.

Coincidentally, as the article posted yesterday and started generating online chatter, Jim Rooney was tweeting from New York City, where the president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and other chamber staff were on a “climate resiliency-themed” City to City trip.

City to City is a program the chamber runs to learn from other cities and bring best practices back to Boston. Rooney says New York City is very focused on climate resiliency efforts, where he says the scale of things means the “challenges, costs, and risks are 10x those of Boston.” While the trip was aimed at learning things the business leaders could bring back home, Rooney made it seem as if it’s Boston that has a thing or two to teach other cities.

“Experts we met in NYC tell us that from their review of the climate change planning and activity in other cities across the US, Boston is in the lead,” he wrote.

It’s hard not to have some doubts about the wisdom of the Seaport buildout. Perhaps it’s some small comfort to say we’re the most prepared of any East Coast city for the disaster of billions of dollars of new coastal development being inundated with water.

Turning the axiom on its head, it’s a case where the hopeful view is to look at the glass as half-empty.



Jockeying on climate change. Gov. Charlie Baker pushes his climate change bill, trumpeting its ability to address needs on private property. House officials say Speaker Robert DeLeo’s Greenworks climate change bill is headed for a vote this summer. (CommonWealth)

Former GOP congressional candidate John Chapman leaves the Baker administration under unusual circumstances — with a severance agreement that morphs into a consulting contract. (CommonWealth)

State Sen. Diana DiZoglio continued her effort to challenge House rules concerning sexual harassment in the State House, testifying at a Beacon Hill hearing that House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s approach to the issue is full of loopholes that will silence victims. (Boston Herald)

Lawmakers, pushing the creation of a state commission, say the local news business needs state help. (CommonWealth) Northeastern journalism professor Dan Kennedy explains why he backs a commission. (WGBH) DigBoston editor Jason Pramas encourages people to go to a special hearing on the issue.

State lawmakers urge Baker to allow transgender people to serve in the National Guard despite a policy issued by President Trump barring the practice. Baker seems amenable. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

A Globe editorial says the Legislature is mostly getting it right with its bill to address the Supreme Court Janus decision on public-sector unions.


Boston Mayor Marty Walsh continued his new-found aggressive stance that the MBTA is falling short in making improvements, opening up a rare fissure in his relationship with Gov. Charlie Baker, who has made reform of the T a signature issue. (Boston Globe)

Walsh is also looking to get his green on, as the city will lay out ambitious new goals for recycling and composting. (Boston Globe)

Marblehead voters approved three debt-exclusion Proposition 2.5 overrides to provide town funding for a new school, repairs to Fort Sewall and planting trees downtown. (Salem News)

Cape residents voiced concerns at Falmouth High School auditorium Tuesday on the Steamship Authority’s plans for a new ferry terminal in Woods Hole, speaking mostly about the aesthetics of the terminal. (Cape Cod Times)


President Trump officially kicked off his 2020 reelection campaign with a speech in Florida, railing against the “angry, left-wing mob” and the media, “evoking the dark messaging and personal grievances that animated his 2016 victory.” (New York Times)  The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake picks out five interesting takeaways in the speech, including a brief shout-out for sanctions against Russia that Trump initially resisted and mention of how the crime bill he signed will help blacks in the criminal justice system, a possible prelude to efforts to paint Joe Biden as a guy to his right on the issue because of his role in the 1994 crime bill.

The Globe jumps on the bandwagon, adding its report to those that have come out in recent days on the steady rise of Elizabeth Warren, whose policy-focused campaign seems to be hitting its stride. (Boston Globe)


The Globe reports that a federal grand jury is investigating the Harvard fencing coach’s sale of his Needham house to a wealthy businessman whose son was hoping to attend the university, a curious tale that the paper first reported on in April.

Local law schools are noticing a Trump effect with heightened interest by students in immigration law. (WBUR)


A new study says the suicide rate in the US among teens aged 15 to 19 soared by nearly 50 percent from 2000 to 2017. (Boston Globe)

New England Public Radio spoke with CommonWealth contributor Linda Enerson about her recent story on plans by Baystate Health to shut down mental health units in three of its community hospitals and consolidate those services in a single facility.


Groton residents expressed concerns about the Nadia Meat and Poultry Delivery Farm slaughtering animals off-site for an Islamic ceremony last year, but the board of health found no problems. (Lowell Sun)


Caroline Pineau, a Haverhill businesswoman who accused her neighbors of extortion, won a split vote at the city council to open a marijuana dispensary downtown. (Eagle-Tribune)

Ermont Inc. in West Quincy could become the city’s first recreational sales pot shop. (Patriot Ledger)


A new study suggests Massachusetts incarcerates relatively few people for parole and probation violations. (MassLive)

A lawyer for David Ortiz says the former Red Sox slugger is “innocent in what happened” — without saying exactly what happened. The supposed motive for the shooting of Ortiz has been left to rumor and speculation, something that may change today when prosecutors are expected to say more about what they think was behind the attack. (Boston Globe)

Last November, Alexander Phillips became the first person let out of Massachusetts prison under the new compassionate release law, and he died 24 days later. (WGBH)

Joseph Nally, a 60-year-old serial drunk driver from Orland, Maine, was sentenced to 3.5 years in state prison after pleading guilty to charges related to a crash where he struck and injured a pedestrian in Gloucester. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Police have filed criminal charges against a Bridgewater-Raynham school bus driver after a Raynham Middle School student was found having a medical emergency on his school bus earlier this month after he was supposed to have been dropped off. (Brockton Enterprise)