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Kairos Shen Speaks on Climate Change and Preparedness at Harvard Climate Week

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On Wednesday April 8th, following an introduction from Ali Malkawi, Founding Director of the CGBC, and Jerold Kayden, Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), Kairos Shen, the Director of Planning at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), gave a lecture on climate change preparedness and resiliency on multiple scales. The talk was sponsored by the Harvard Center for the Environment, Harvard GSD, and the Harvard CGBC  for Harvard’s Climate Week, a five-day, campus-wide event that presented a wide variety of perspectives on critical issues driven by climate change.

Shen emphasized the city’s ongoing work to confront climate change, the role of the BRA in planning, and the scale of the problem. Using images of potential sea-level rise, Shen explained that the frequency and potency of serious storms like Superstorm Sandy will likely increase and could result in submerged open spaces and buildings as a symptom of climate change.  He stressed that climate change represents an “existential challenge to the city,” which will require a change in planning to anticipate and combat its effects.

Shen used the recent reorganization of city departments and civil servants dedicated to climate change and the environment as an example of how the organization of personnel is not only a bureaucratic decision, but also a strategic one that can help tackle new challenges. As a result, the city’s Climate Action Plan, which was initially very technical and compartmentalized, has been transformed and is now divided into intuitive sectors that help analyze grassroots networks and daily relationships, Shen said. “Without education and grassroots networking, you can’t achieve the reduction in greenhouse gas levels we’re seeking.”

Shen also noted the benefits of planning and climate preparedness to address climate change, infrastructure disturbances, extreme heat and other environmental problems, outweigh the current costs. Shen highlighted City Hall Plaza as an example of BRA work that focuses on climate resiliency and greening, while also transforming the space.“The city must start thinking about the assets we own in a different way,” Shen said.

Watch the entire lecture here: