Island must adapt to rising seas and stronger storms

Dutch architect suggests Vineyarders come together to plan for the future.

Matthijs Bouw says the Island must come together in order to prepare for a changing environment. — Lucas Thors

Dutch architect and urbanist Matthijs Bouw says the Island will need to work across boundaries and disciplines in order to adapt to the growing effects of climate change.

Bouw, founding principal of One Architecture, had to constantly consider the issue of sea level rise in his hometown of Amsterdam, and has used his advanced knowledge of adaptive architecture to help many waterside communities. 

At the Oak Bluffs library, Bouw spoke of his many projects in downtown Boston, New York City, and the Netherlands. The event was organized by Elizabeth Durkee of the Oak Bluffs Conservation Commission.

With climate change creating more extreme storms and loose projections of sea level rise in the next century reaching 50 feet or more, Bouw said communities located in floodplains will deal most immediately with these issues.

One key area of Bouw’s expertise is large-scale social and technical resilience planning and infrastructure.

Instead of at-risk communities responding to flooding as it happens, Bouw said, One Architecture is all about taking proactive steps to not only protect vulnerable areas from water. 

“In Amsterdam and the Netherlands, we learned ways to live with water in a way that was much more than just water management,” Bouw said. “We really tried to utilize the benefits of water in both social and technical infrastructure.” Bouw gave an example of an ocean barrier that was also a walkway and a park for people to use and enjoy. “We want these spaces to be useful for not just keeping out water. We want them to be used as much as possible by the community,” Bouw said.

He described one of his company’s largest projects, The Big U, in Lower Manhattan. 

As a result of Superstorm Sandy, thousands of people in Lower Manhattan were left displaced and without electricity or running water. 

The Big U project proposed 10 miles of continuous flood and stormwater protection, with individual sections catering to every neighborhood’s typology.

Bouw wanted to maximize function and form with this major project, and said that programming and infrastructure must be linked in order to achieve the most far-reaching success.

On an Island like Martha’s Vineyard, Bouw said certain problems associated with being dependent on external resources can put the community in a tough spot when it comes to emergency preparedness and adaptation.

But he also said having a small, sequestered community affords definite benefits as well.

“Your community is small, connected, and can be used to experiment with various ways of advancing adaptive infrastructure, and working across multiple disciplines,” Bouw said.

He also said the Vineyard community is generally well-resourced and well-educated.

“You have the ability to be prepared when it comes to dealing with these issues,” Bouw said.

When it comes to climate change, Bouw said, uncertainty is ever-present, as new timescale projections are released every year.

“A few years ago in the Netherlands, we were planning for sea level rise in the year 2100, but we soon realized that climate problems are much worse than we originally anticipated,” Bouw said. “You need to focus on both the long term and the short term, and allow projects to adapt as new information is released.”

Bouw discussed the Vineyard Municipal Vulnerability Program and the Island Climate Action Network. He said these types of initiatives allow ongoing conversation within the community, where multiple voices can contribute to climate solutions.

Some of the most successful and progressive projects Bouw has worked on, he said, have involved ecologists, architects, sociologists, and others all working together to reach a certain goal. “Your community is far ahead of some similar-size coastal communities,” Bouw said. “I see each town doing fantastic things to be actively engaged in issues related to climate change.” But Bouw said all towns must come together in order to protect beaches and coastlines on the Island.

He said the regulatory framework in America is more reactive instead of preventive. “Community and social resilience is really about being prepared for whatever may come ahead. If something unexpected happens, regulations should be such that we move away from avoidance and more toward preparedness,” Bouw said. 

In the future, Bouw said Martha’s Vineyard faces a multitude of challenges related to climate change, and the Island needs to think about these looming issues now, instead of scrambling to regain ground after an emergency.

“The future of coastal communities, including Martha’s Vineyard, is uncertain. We don’t yet know the speed or severity that these environmental impacts will carry, but the ability for a community to bounce back after a disaster is reliant on long- and short-term planning,” Bouw said.


  1. His statement “We don’t yet know the speed or severity that these environmental impacts will carry” supports the argument that this is a bunch of nonsense. They’ve been spewing this rhetoric for 3 decades and the speed and severity are negligible.

  2. Sea level rise of 50 ft ?
    i am very aware of the predictions of real scientist– i am sorry Mr. Bouw, but to talk about 50 feet of sea level rise in the next century is just ridiculous, there is no scientific consensus on that one– Extreme predictions such as that just feeds the false narrative of the ignorant climate deniers.

  3. None of these ”experts” ever talk about beach “”renourishment here,” which should have been implemented years ago. The US Army Corps of engineers does this up and down the east coast. Its a simple process of pumping the sand back onto the beaches that gets washed out to sea with the storms. South beach used to be hundreds of feet wide, and i remember when the ‘bunker” was on the beach. If this is not done, then at some point Atlantic drive will be in need of one of his ”walkways and barriers”.

    • Massachusetts is the only state in the nation that doesn’t allow sand harvesting. We need to elect more forward thinking legislators.

    • Beach “renourishment” does not work. Especially as a way to combat sea level rise. The Army corps is the worst, as the floods in New Orleans after Katrina and the floods in the midwest in the mid nineties attest. If they are involved, you can rest assured, calamity will ensue.

      • True. So-called renourishment is an exercise in futility. The natural processes that erode sand from a shoreline or replenish it will negate any attempts by man. Look at the ‘new’ Squibnocket beach as an example. A good portion of the sand filled in last year has already been washes away and we’ve yet to see what a typical winter will do there. Last winter as one of the mildest ever so there was little impact as compared to most years.
        Towns that pump sand back onto a beach spend millions over the long term and never really gain on balance. Nature will take its course. It’s inevitable.

      • Beach renourishment is better than doing nothing. Why not use the same logic about dredging. Nature will take its course and you will have stagnant ponds and harbors than cannot be navigated. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

        • The economic benefit of dredging is substantial.There is a return on investment that makes it worthwhile in most cases. Beach renourishment does nothing more than throw good money after bad.

          • The economic benefit of beach renourishment is substantial. Nobody is going to come here and sit on beach chairs on a paved atlantic drive when south beach is gone. Get rid of the visitors= kill the economy. Not withstanding when homes fall into the ocean, the tax base loses out as well. Beach renourishment is necessary just as dredging. Perhaps more important to protect the island.

    • myob– thanks for the link– I even read it– nice article, I will send it to my friends who are skeptical about the value of wind farms as proof about how environmentally friendly wind turbines are, and how they create jobs and subsidize local economies.
      I urge everyone to follow your link and share it.

      • Yes the dump industry will benefit greatly. I would suggest we set aside a few thousand acres on MV to bury the waste from the offshore windfarm proposed.

  4. myob—every means of producing energy will create waste- coal companies have slag to deal with. Where does that go ? How toxic is it ? — If you drive by the Brayton point site in Fall River, you can clearly see the remains of the 500 ft tall twin cooling towers which were completed in2011 at a cost of 600 million dollars — where is that debris going and who is paying ?And what about the rusting plant itself ? Look at the decommissioning of the pilgrim nuclear power plant — who’s paying for that ?
    But, we are talking about turbine blades— The proposed offshore wind project will have 84 turbines– 252 blades–they are about 165 x 6×8 ft– or 7920 cubic ft per blade– about 2 million cubic ft. total.
    that would fit in a space of about 220 ft x220 ft x40 ft .
    The Goodale pit is about 900 ft on a side ( that’s just the pit) and clearly more than 40 ft deep.
    That means that when Goodale’s inevitably runs out of the ability to extract sand from their pit ( water table and all that,) they could throw all the spent turbine blades in there for the next 100 years or so..
    And nothing toxic to leach into the water table– And when it’s all filled up, the Goodale family could make a really nice park there–
    Not quite ” a few thousand acres”

    • yeah just hook them up to the back of your electric bicycle and bring em over… No problem making the turn onto Edgartown VH Rd. Goodale won’t mind… after all their name begins with good. We can just dig another pit for the backfill. So that is all fine but they need to make the contracts and exact plans for removal and disposal now prior to pouring the concrete into our oceans. 85 turbines is just the tip of the iceberg, Once they scam their way into our fishing grounds and trick us into .33 cents a KWH +, they will never stop. That is 85 NYC height structures killing birds just off our coast. Are you going to eat the seagulls too?

      • myob– the article that you linked to here states that the blades are cut into thirds before traveling the roads. Since the blades are about 165 ft long, that makes each piece about 55 ft’ long ( I can do simple math, and perhaps you could study up a bit about decimal placement– you have recently posted a number of times about the price of a kwh of electricity being under one cent. The current rate on the Vineyard is about 22 cents. ) — at that length , they can do loop de loops around the roundabout just for fun before they make the easy turn into Goodales from the Edgartown road. . While my electric bicycle is not capable of pulling such a large object, I am sure the John Deer electric tractor could.
        If in fact, the windmills kill a significant numbers of birds ( which does not seem to be the case, based on observations from existing off shore wind farms ) I will not be the one to eat them, as they will fall into the ocean and feed the fishery that you are concerned about.

        • @dondondon12.. in the interest of accuracy, when ‘rates’ per KWH are quoted by these promoters, its for the cost of GENERATION, not generation + TRANSMISSION. If you check your bill, your current rate for KWH for ‘generation’ should be 9-11 centers per KWH. If you are paying more, your supplier is ripping you off. Current EVERSROUCE rate is 10.836 per KWH. Most of us are on CAPE LIGHT Compact as a ‘default’ setting which is similar. You can choose any supplier you want but nobody charges 22 cents or even close.

          • not new– myob does not differentiate between generation and delivery charges.
            By the magic of accounting, My electricity is all renewable — yes , I understand that electrons do not sort themselves out and only one’s from wind farms in maine get to my house, It’s accounting– even at that, I am withing your range (10.7 cents per kwh , or for the benefit of myob, .107 DOLLARS per kwh. )
            With delivery charges of about 12 cents , that’s about 22 cents per kwh that I actually pay.
            If myob is talking only about apples, he should state that.
            So, given that we can assume myob means only generation charges, and misplaced decimals,where does he get the 33 cent figure from ? The article below states 6.5 cents per kwh on a long term contract from the proposed wind farm near us :

          • Dondondon12 I’d be thrilled to pay 6.5c per kwh generation charge for renewable. Unfortunately I don’t believe it will happen. When cape wind failed years ago, their best guestimate was a wholesale price in the mid-high 20 cent range meaning consumers would be paying north of 30 cents (IF that was even accurate in the mid to high 20’s), for the generation portion only which would have tripled the ‘then’ rates, which most likely contributed to their failure despite their friend Deval mandating that utilities purchase their over-priced commodity. I cannot imagine how this outfit can make electricity for so much less than the well funded failed cape wind. time will tell.

  5. Sounds like this guys is looking for work, and found our island temperament a perfect target.
    But did I just ready president Obamas new coastal home will be about 40 ft underwater? Hard to believe such an activist in this field would make that mistake…

    • whale oil– the statement that sea level will be up 50 ft in 100 years is the opinion of the speaker, and is in now way supported by the scientific community.

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