Don't be (literally) in the wave of the future

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Richard Maltzman
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In today’s Boston Sunday Globe, in the front page of their Address section, has a feature story about how climate change worries have ‘taken a back seat’ in terms of Boston’s sizzling real estate market.  People are buying up Beantown properties (including those along the shoreline) despite the well-documented sea-level effects expected for Boston in the longer term.

The article says that if you are out looking for real estate this weekend (a very nice spring weekend in Boston, as it turns out) climate change “may sound like a tinny alarm bell from a distant, dystopian future”.  But real estate investments are not “for the moment”, they are for the long-haul.

Nela Richardson, chief economist at the real estate brokerage Redfin, agrees that buyers just aren’t reacting to climate change. “What we see, especially in the Boston area, is a lot of those coastal properties are high-end real estate, and they sell at a premium,” she said. “I think the psychology is, It’s too far away for me to worry about it.

Or, is there something else at play here?  Massachusetts actually has some very good science and planning around climate change and perhaps, just perhaps, people are putting their faith in actions by the city and the Commonwealth’s Governor Charlie Baker.  Planners are actually considering a huge sea wall from the community of Hull to Deer Island.  See figure below, from the Boston Globe in February.  Imagine the project management opportunities for that program!

But let’s get back to the issue.  There are resources available to help with decisions – if you want to take the long term into account.  One of the most interesting is the tool from Sasaki that lets you see the effects of sea level rise – plus the effect of storms, in four scenarios.  To me, what was interesting was that Boston’s Logan Airport is actually underwater in the most extreme of the four scenarios.  But even in the less extreme situations, many properties (of high commercial value) are at risk.  See the figure below, generated from this interactive map. 

What are the take-aways for project managers, regardless of whether you say “Car” or “Cah”?  After all, the sea is not rising only in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

The take-away - just this:

Your project – like a home purchase – is more than just a “purchase and sale” agreement.  It “lives” longer than the date at which the project is handed over to the client.  The effects – economic, social, and ecological – continue past that date when you move on to another project.

You should be looking at the equivalent of the Sasaki maps which you make project decisions.

In this case, you don’t want to literally be part of the “wave of the future”.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: April 16, 2017 09:41 PM | Permalink

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Anonymous
For home buyers, sea-level rise is not really a negative over their life spa. If one can afford to buy a slice of coastal paradise for a decade or two, why not? For projects, the expected life span of the asset, and the money available to invest in upgrades are very real considerations. Human retreat from the coast will happen slowly, and that's not a bad thing.

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