Back to top

Mayor Walsh's 2018 remarks to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce

October 23, 2018

Mayor's Office

Published by:

Mayor's Office

Read remarks from the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce speech on October 17.

Thank you Micheal [Chamberlain] and thank you Jim [Rooney] for all you do at the Chamber. I was honored to help you kick off the Fierce Urgency of Now, the Chamber’s
festival for millennials of color. We had a great conversation with the next generation of leaders in our city.

2018 is shaping up to be one of the best years in Boston’s history. I want to congratulate the Red Sox for winning their most games ever—not to mention beating the Yankees.
Baseball’s not the only way we’re winning. This year, Boston passed New York City in total venture capital funding. We are Number One on the East Coast for advancing innovation. And the World Economic Forum recently recognized us as the fifth most “future proof” city in the world, due to our strength in education, technology, and the environment.

In this time of uncertainty for our nation and our world, cities must lead—and Boston is the leader of cities. We’re the city that’s world-class because it works for the middle class. We continue to add 20,000 new jobs each year. Unemployment has been below 4% since June of 2017.

Our Housing Plan has produced nearly 28,000 new homes. By the end of this year, we will have created more income-restricted, affordable homes than any four-year period on
record. Now, we’ve increased our 2030 housing goal by 30%, to 69,000 homes. And we launched a regional plan with 14 other cities and towns. Over $9.3 billion of development is in construction. This year we’ve already added another $6.8 billion to the pipeline—well ahead of last year’s pace. This summer, we appointed Boston’s first African-American Police Commissioner, Willie Gross. He’s here with us.

In June we hosted the U.S. Conference of Mayors. We advanced a better national conversation, and we set a record for the number of mayors marching in a Pride Parade. We continued our historic run of perfect, AAA bond ratings for the fifth consecutive year. Working with our public employee unions, we have saved $50 million in health care costs since 2014. And we are on track to fully fund employee pension obligations by 2025, 15 years ahead of the state requirement. Working with the City Council, in June we enacted a $3.3 billion budget—balanced and on time—with record investments in schools, public safety, roads and bike lanes, parks and libraries, arts and culture, in every neighborhood. We have selected a committee to begin the search for the next Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. In the meantime, we built 30 school kitchens to provide students with fresh cooked food. We opened the state-of-the-art Dearborn STEM Academy, Boston’s first new-built high school in 23 years. We’ve got more four-year-olds in high-quality pre- kindergarten than any time in our city’s history. Tech Boston won the state championship in boys’ basketball. Our principal turnover was less than half the national average—the new leaders we did hire are 61% people of color. And Craig Martin of the Perkins School in South Boston was named Elementary Principal of the Year in Massachusetts. He’s here with us as well. Boston is growing. Our population is approaching 700,000 for the first time since the early 1960s. What’s even better, more Bostonians are thriving. We are not only creating opportunity, we are constantly working on reducing inequality. And we are not only building new homes and businesses, we are sharing opportunity all across our city.

I could spend all morning expounding on our city’s success. Today, I need to do something different. I am going to focus on one topic. But it’s a topic that impacts everything we do in our city: all of our plans and policies, every sector of our economy, safety and quality of life in all our neighborhoods. It’s the challenge of climate change, and it’s an urgent priority. I’m going to outline the scope of the threat posed by sea level rise, severe storms, flooding, and heat. And I am going to offer a plan for us to meet this challenge, comprehensively, together, as a city. It’s a plan to protect our waterfront, and much more. It’s a plan to protect our people; protect their homes and their jobs; protect businesses large and small; protect schools, parks, and roads, senior centers and daycare facilities. It’s also a plan to connect our people—to open space, to Boston Harbor, to opportunity. It’s a vision of environmental, economic, and social resilience, and I’m going to ask for your help making it a reality. But first, let me tell you what we’ve already done.

We’ve led the fight for climate action, here in Boston. We've been ranked the Number One city for energy efficiency in the United States for five years. We are one of the first
American cities to set a target of being carbon neutral by 2050. At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, we won the top award for community engagement. And when the White House pulled out of the Paris agreement, we led a coalition of cities that remain committed to our planet and to our peoples’ wellbeing. We've expanded open space across the city, making us Number One in the nation for resident access to parks. We’re investing in green transportation, with protected bike lanes in Roxbury, the South End, and North End; expanded bike share access in Mattapan, Roslindale, and Dorchester; and strengthened partnerships with the MBTA to increase public transit use. This June we hosted an international climate summit. At that summit, we convened a group of cities focused on buying renewable energy collectively. And at home, we’re launching a Community Choice Energy program to provide the same opportunity to our residents.

I’m proud of our leadership. But the fact is, climate change is already here. Just look at what other cities have faced. In 2012, Super Storm Sandy inflicted $70 billion worth of damage and caused the deaths of 71 people. It brought Lower Manhattan’s financial sector to a standstill. Last year, Hurricane Harvey caused $125 billion of damage and 68 deaths in Houston and Southeast Texas. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and caused over 3,000 people to lose their lives. We welcomed hundreds of survivors to Boston, and I saw the impact up close when I visited Puerto Rico with Red Sox manager Alex Cora. Last month, Florence caused the evacuation of the Carolina coast, with at least 45 deaths. And just last week, Hurricane Michael was the fourth strongest storm ever to make landfall in the United States of America. It’s already done $30 billion of damage so far, and killed at least 26 people. The science is clear: Climate change has given us hotter and more volatile weather; it has amplified the frequency and impact of severe storms; and it has increased the rate of sea level rise. An international panel of scientists just released a new report saying major impacts could hit worldwide as early as 2040. We don’t have to look far for early warning signs. A dumpster floating down the street at Fort Point in January. Blue Line tracks underwater in March. Floodwaters in Christopher Columbus Park, reaching the Rose Kennedy Greenway for the first time. King tides that routinely flood the Harbor Walk. Driftwood on a soccer field at LoPresti Park in East Boston. The hottest and most humid summer in our recorded history—this year. Climate change is very real to Bostonians. We are working every day to be a Climate Ready Boston. We review and upgrade Emergency Management systems, across every department, to be as prepared as possible. Now we are releasing resilient design standards for infrastructure, so private construction on public rights-of-way can protect our neighborhoods from flooding. And we are currently designing a resilient zoning overlay district to strengthen building requirements in the future floodplain. But even if we are in the lead with our response, this race has only just begun. The dark areas on this map show Boston’s flood risk in 2070. We’re not just planning for the next storm we will face—we’re planning for storms the next generation will face. This is a moment they’ll look back and judge us by. I want to address one proposal that’s been discussed for several years: a massive barrier across Boston Harbor. Besides taking decades to complete, a barrier would bring its own set of serious ecological issues. The fact is, we’re all here, in this city we love, because of a naturally sheltered harbor. We built Boston on it. We cleaned it up. Instead of walling off our Harbor, we need to work with it. Shoreline projects are more feasible and more effective ways to increase our city’s resilience. We have to focus on the most vulnerable areas on the flood maps, the entry points for water into our city. Here you see Fort Point Channel and Moakley Park. They are underwater in a storm. And they also start flood pathways that run deep into our neighborhoods, from Chinatown and the South  End, to Dorchester and Roxbury. We have to take action to protect our neighborhoods. We need to address unique conditions at each point on our shore and create tailored solutions, responsive to the community’s needs. So that’s what we’ve done. We engaged the experts. We listened to the community’s deep local knowledge. And we identified ways to protect our neighborhoods that also enhance access and enjoyment of our waterfront.

Today we’re releasing a Climate Ready plan for South Boston. It joins an existing plan for East Boston and Charlestown. And now we are launching plans for Downtown and the North End--as well as the entire Dorchester shore. Together, these plans offer coastal resilience solutions spanning our entire 47-mile shoreline. This is our vision of a Resilient Boston. It’s a system not of barricades but of beaches—and parks and trails and open spaces—that are elevated to block floods and enhanced to unlock opportunity. It calls for 67 acres of new open space and 122 acres of revitalized open space on our waterfront. It links to our Emerald Necklace and reflects the same values of public health, public access, and world-class design. It’s a vision of a city more connected to our waterfront—and to each other.


I’m excited to share our vision and our progress towards achieving it. Let me take you on a brief journey down our waterfront. In East Boston and Charlestown, our goal is to restore and renew the spaces along our inner harbor. In Charlestown, we’ve committed funds to elevate Main Street as part of the Rutherford Ave.-Sullivan Square redesign. This will block the primary flood pathway through the neighborhood. Next steps include elevating Ryan Playground and redeveloping the Schrafft Center waterfront. In East Boston, we have completed a deployable flood wall on the East Boston Greenway. When storm surge hits, the wall can be raised to block the Marginal Street flood path, protecting 4,200 residents, at least 70 businesses, and critical utility and transit infrastructure. We are working with Tom Glynn at Massport, along with the East Boston community, on Piers Park Phase Two. It will double the amount of greenspace to 10 acres, and elevate it for protection. We must also restore Wood Island and Belle Isle Marsh. It’s the last tidal salt marsh in Boston and will disappear if we don't act. We’re working with the Suffolk Downs development on a resilient design with community access. We’ve also identified opportunities along Bennington Street to block storm surge. And we’re working with community groups to increase access to the waterfront. Here you can see the opportunity for a renovated and resilient Constitution Beach. It’s a
perfect example of our win-win strategy. We will make the places our neighbors love the spaces that keep our neighborhoods safe. Turning to the Downtown and North End waterfront: flood risk threatens our financial center, our tourist destinations, and our oldest residential neighborhoods. But we’re not
about to retreat from our historic waterfront. Instead we have to adapt and activate it. We’ll elevate sections of the Harborwalk. We’ll create connections to the Rose Kennedy
Greenway. We’ll reimagine Sargent's Wharf—it’s now only a parking lot. We’ll revitalize and elevate Langone-Puopolo Park in the North End. We’ll work with the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park on a new design. And we’ll enhance Long Wharf as a hub for water transportation. In other words: we’ll make the Harbor where Boston was born, the
gateway to Boston’s future. In South Boston, our new resilience plan shows how climate action can bring our city together.

The conversation is often about the Seaport. In fact, new buildings are being developed at a high standard of resilience, including Seaport Square, where Amazon and other companies
will be located. And projects like 150 Seaport Boulevard are expanding our Harborwalk. It’s older building stock that we need to be more worried about. And it’s points on the shore
where floodwaters enter our city. That’s why, last fall, I announced our intention to create a signature, resilient park system around Fort Point Channel. We are working with all the property owners around the Channel to make this plan a reality. This kind of collaboration will be essential to all our future work. I want to thank General Electric for taking the lead on resilient building design; Gillette for advancing a climate-ready plan for their waterfront; as well as Synergy, Hunneman, the Children’s Museum, and Mass. Development. In addition, we are applying for a FEMA mitigation grant of $10 million to begin the resilience work; and the Boston Water and Sewer Commission has begun installing essential
infrastructure for reducing flood risk. In the meantime, we are nearing completion of Martin's Park, the first step in this new Fort Point Channel. Named for Martin Richard, it’s an inclusive playground with a climate-ready design. It embodies the values we want for all our future parks.

Across the neighborhood at Moakley Park, we have been working with residents on a resilient redesign. Whatever emerges from this community process, it's going to protect South Boston, Dorchester, Roxbury, the South End, and Back Bay; it will be an even more welcoming space than it is now; and the first people a resilient Moakley Park will protect are thousands of residents of the Anne Lynch, Old Colony, and Mary Ellen McCormack public housing developments—as well as all their neighbors. These developments, and this park, represent Boston's historic commitment to our collective wellbeing. That's the legacy we build on.

And when we complete the Emerald Necklace along Columbia Road from Franklin Park to Moakley Park, we’ll increase access to the waterfront for all the residents of our city. We've
committed $11 million from the sale of Winthrop Square Garage, for that purpose. The rest of our coastline to the south, we envision as a resilient, accessible, and connected
Dorchester shore, the kind you see here. Notice how many residential communities this shoreline can protect. We are working with the state on the Morrissey Boulevard redesign, to stop the flooding, protect the neighborhood from future risk, and open up more of our waterfront. The Neponset River Trail starts in Mattapan. We want to complete its connection to the Harbor Walk, from Tenean Beach to Victory Road Park. We’ll continue all the way up to Columbia Point, where we have a strong partnership with UMass Boston and we will work with the developer of the Bayside site. We’ll open up the waterfront for our largest, most diverse neighborhoods and we'll ask residents what amenities they'd like to see, including more public transit and better roadway connections. This is the opportunity a resilient Harbor presents—to protect Boston, connect Boston, and enhance Boston, now and for future generations. We’ve already started to make it a reality. We’ve made investments. We’ve launched community conversations. We’ve completed projects and we’ve increased resilience at points along every stretch of our waterfront. But there's no partial credit for this project. We have a lot more work to do. And we need to do it together.

At each point in the plan there are challenges. Multiple property owners. Multiple jurisdictions. Funding needs. The Harborwalk alone touches 356 different properties. It’s a
shared resource and a shared obligation. We can't let these manmade hurdles hold us back. The risk is too great; and the opportunity too good. I mentioned what major storms have done to other cities. Consider what’s at stake for Boston. Our downtown financial engines are at stake. Hundreds of small businesses are at stake. Many thousands of homes are at stake. Billions of dollars of public and private investment, and property, and infrastructure are at stake. No project we take on today will cost anywhere near as much as doing nothing.
We’ve done the math. In East Boston, we could invest $160 million in resilience. Or we could do nothing, and expect damages of $480 million. In Charlestown, we could invest $50 million now. Or pay over $200 million later. In South Boston, we could invest $1 billion. Or we could pay $19 billion in citywide damages, when Fort Point Channel and Dorchester Bay meet and flood the heart of our city.

We either invest now, or else we pay a much bigger price later. And we’ll pay that price in more than dollars. We’ll pay it in jobs lost, small businesses that never recover, homes destroyed and families displaced. That’s why we are investing millions of dollars at the sites I mentioned today. And that’s why we’ll go further. To begin, we pledge at least 10% of all new capital spending to resilience projects. We’re also developing resources like Green bonding through our Renew Boston Trust; the Community Preservation Act voters passed two years ago; and public-private coalitions like the Green Ribbon Commission. But however committed we are, and however creative we are, the City of Boston cannot do this alone. The impacts of climate change, and the benefits of resilience, are shared: across every level of government, every class of property, and every sector of our economy. So we must share in the obligations as well.

We will work with our neighboring cities and towns on Harbor-wide solutions. And I’m grateful to our state partners, for the work we've done together, so far. But we have to do more. We have to design and fund more ambitious solutions. Boston is the capital city of Massachusetts and the engine of New England’s economy. The state and the region depend on our resilience. We’ll also work with our congressional delegation on opportunities like the FEMA grant, reminding the federal government that mitigation aid now is cheaper than disaster relief later. Philanthropy also has a vital role to play. The Barr Foundation is our lead partner in this planning. I ask anyone who wants to have deep and lasting impact, to join Barr, and get involved. We want our plan on the leading edge of where social equity and climate resilience intersect.

Finally, I appeal directly to the business community in Boston. I know as property owners, decision-makers—and citizens—you are engaged with climate change and its impacts. You’ve built green buildings. You’ve elevated your systems. You’ve put in flood barriers. Those are critical steps. But they can’t be the only steps, because one day soon you could find yourself on an island in your resilient building—literally. And neither your workers, nor our first responders, will be able to get there.

Resilience is an ecosystem asset, not an individual one. Property lines are no protection against a flood. We need to weave our efforts together into one resilient shore that is stronger than the sum of its parts. That’s what our plan makes possible. If your property is on the water or your property is one mile inland, you are at risk. Wherever you are in Boston, the ability of your employees to get to work and the ability of your suppliers to make deliveries are at risk. We can, and we must, fund and build solutions together.

The climate work we’ve done, and the plan I share today, protect your property, protect your workforce, and protect your investments. We need your leadership to make it a
reality. Whether it’s installing resilient infrastructure, or contributing to an open space upgrade: You can strengthen your investments; you can protect the community you are a part of; and we can create an even better city to do business in. I hope, like me, you'll see it as our city’s obligation to the generations who come after us. I also hope, like me, you see it as Boston’s opportunity to once again lead the way forward on an issue of vital national importance. My team will be reaching out, on how you can get involved. But don’t wait for us. Visit the website to learn more. We welcome your input, your expertise, your investments—your partnership. I started off today talking about our city’s success. I’m not just here to say it’s all at risk due to climate change. I’m here to say our success is proof that we have the talent, resources,and innovation we need to rise to this challenge.

We’ve done big things on our Harbor before. And we did them together. Everyone played a role. We started a Revolution that made America, and we welcomed the immigrants who built America. We filled the Back Bay, created the Esplanade, and built neighborhoods on land reclaimed from the water. We made room for an international airport, a public university, and some of the best urban parks and beaches in the world. We created a Harborwalk, thanks to the foresight of city planners. Not long ago, we dug a Third Harbor Tunnel, built an iconic bridge, and buried two interstate highways—bringing the people of Boston closer to their waterfront. We cleaned the Harbor, we opened up the Harbor Islands—and now we see not just people, but whales and seals and all kinds of marine life returning to our waters.

Today, I call on those same qualities of hard work and high ambition—Boston’s drive to not only solve tough problems, but set new standards—as we enter a new era in our Harbor city’s history. Let’s show the world that resilience is more than the ability to survive adversity, it's the will to emerge even stronger than you were before. That’s the promise of a Resilient Boston. That's the past, present, and future of our city. That’s what I know we can do together.

Thank you, God Bless You, and God Bless the City of Boston.