January 3, 2015

Boston’s Surprising Responses to Rising Sea Levels.


In the face of impending climate change and natural disasters, some people respond by making noise; some people make contingency plans—some make art.

On October 29th, 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit the U.S. Atlantic Coast, causing major damage in New York, and lesser coastal flooding around Boston.

However, Sandy was very nearly a perfect storm for the City of Boston. Had it not been low tide (had the storm hit just five and a half hours earlier), Boston could have shared the same challenges as New York, where nearly one million people were left without power.

“Events such as Superstorm Sandy highlight the growing relevance of climate change to our everyday lives. They also draw attention to the importance of taking steps today to be prepared for the likely events of tomorrow.” ~ TBHA (The Boston Harbor Association) 2013 Report

Current reports predict sea levels will rise up to two feet around Boston by 2050, and up to six feet by 2100. These numbers don’t take into account wave action, which increases the impact of flooding.

The Charles River, too, is expected to rise by two feet.


Though it is tempting to cover our eyes and ears when confronted by such predictions, without preparation entire neighborhoods in Boston (many of them lower income) will disappear or suffer irreparable damage within our lifetime.

Luckily, city officials are well aware of the imminent risks, and entire teams of city planners and architects have mobilized to find solutions. These include “living with water” (designing “floodable zones” to accommodate rising water levels), resilient building design, and storm surge barriers.

Local artists and activists, too, have taken it upon themselves to bring awareness to residents, ensuring that citizens as well as officials take interest in the city’s fate.

Susan Israel is one such artist and activist. Founder of the Energy Necklace Project, she seeks to, “connect a community that fosters awareness and action towards improving the health of our environment.” She created an environmental art installation called Rising Tides at T (subway) stations across Boston to bring the issue of rising sea levels into people’s daily commute.

“Rising tides shows where future flood and high tide water levels will be on land which is currently dry. The colorful painted fish act as a totem and a key: a warning that conveys future water levels, making the invisible visible. As we walk by these stripings, measuring them with our bodies, seeing water at ankle, knee, hip or eye level, or higher, the issue of climate change gains immediacy. The markings help you imagine where the water will be in the future, and what will be awash.” ~ Susan Israel

I am honored to be able to share images from her project—not just as a fellow human being, but also as Susan’s niece.

May they be of benefit.










The Boston Harbor Association.

Living With Water.

More on Rising Tides.

What can I do about climate change?

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Author: Toby Israel

Editor: Renée Picard

Photos: Used with permission from Susan Israel


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