Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environmental Sciences

First Advisor

John Duff

Second Advisor

Alan Wiig

Third Advisor

Robert F. Chen


Climate change poses catastrophic risks to many coastal cities through flooding from sea level rise and increasingly damaging storm surges. In response, many municipalities are seeking to alter the shoreline to create flood protection systems, which will require a major shift in shoreline management. To address this problem, I conduct a transdisciplinary study of urban shoreline management, drawing on a case study of Boston, Massachusetts. I engage in three research studies from three different disciplinary perspectives: urban planning history, law and policy analysis, and critical urban studies. To facilitate transdisciplinary integration, I draw upon the bridging concept of path dependency to connect findings of each research chapter. First, I examine the historical management of development and alteration of Boston’s tidelands, beginning in precolonial times and extending to the 1990s, drawing on archival primary sources and secondary source historic analysis. I identify six critical, temporal junctures in which consequential decisions were made that impacted governance of Boston’s tidelands, emphasizing how these decisions both responded to and created path dependencies in the evolution of the shoreline. I then examine current laws and regulations that restrict the use of in-water fill along the shoreline and consider how these restrictions impact climate adaptation planning. Based on an analysis of laws, regulations, policy and planning documents, and stakeholder interviews, I find widespread consensus that fill will be an important component of adaptation in Boston, and I identify tradeoffs between environmental, social, and economic values that should be considered in discussions about regulatory change. Finally, I analyze redevelopment on formerly filled tidelands in Boston’s Seaport District to understand how urban development patterns interact with a growing awareness of climate risks. I find that the city’s responses constitute a ‘resilience fix’ that selectively adopts policies to adapt to climate change while perpetuating existing patterns of economic growth and land development, a strategy that may lock in certain future adaptation paths. Considerations of path dependencies are not always sufficiently embedded in planning processes; this transdisciplinary approach prompts new questions about how they might be integrated into climate adaptation decisions.


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