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Confronting the Challenge of Climate Change: Designing the Future of Cape Ann

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The future of Cape Ann will be shaped, in large part, by the effects of climate change. These effects will reach well beyond sea level rise and increased storm events. They will ultimately challenge and disrupt the housing, transportation, public services, and economic health of these communities. In light of these challenges, three local organizations—TownGreen2025, the Gloucester Meetinghouse Foundation, and the Cape Ann Climate Coalition—are joining with the Harvard Graduate School of Design to begin to envision a sustainable future for the region. In recognition of the reality that Cape Ann’s interwoven ecologies, geographies, and economies transcend municipal boundaries, the scope of the project will include the entire region: Essex, Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Rockport.

Previous Planning Efforts

Each of the four municipalities has participated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program along with the FEMA Hazard Mitigation planning efforts. What is needed now are roadmaps to address these identified vulnerabilities and to develop more inclusive public outreach and understanding across the region.

TownGreen2025 was formed in 2015 with a goal to bring Cape Ann’s carbon footprint to net zero. Programming has focused on four core areas: energy efficiency, renewable energy, climate education, and carbon sequestration. Over the past year, efforts have expanded to include mitigation, adaptation and resilience. TownGreen2025 has led an initiative to bring together concerned citizens, business leaders, and municipalities to form the Cape Ann Climate Coalition to address climate threats in an equitable, and region-wide approach.

In the summer of 2020, the Harvard Graduate School of Design was funded to assist in the development of a course of action focused on Cape Ann’s vulnerabilities and opportunities. Harvard researchers reviewed existing studies, surveys, documentation, and data that will be useful in assessing current and future needs in a comprehensive approach. GSD developed a proposal for a yearlong effort to:

  1. develop a graphic scenario of what will happen if Cape Ann takes minimal preemptive action in the face of a “big storm” event;
  2. analyze mitigation, adaptation, and resilience in the three areas of waste recovery and energy production, building and retrofitting a net zero, disaster-proof, and equitable housing stock, and assessing options for armoring infrastructures and managed retreat;
  3. present a series of 12 case studies drawing on the results of previous regional, national, and international interventions, including in sustainable farming and fisheries, energy-efficient transportation, modifications to the working waterfront in Gloucester, regenerative natural system solutions, and others.

Timeline and Constraints

TownGreen2025 is in the process of securing the needed $250,000 in funding for the Harvard GSD Cape Ann Case Study. Work will begin once $100,000 has been raised from public, foundation, and private donor sources, ideally early in 2021.

Capacity for Implementation

This collaborative effort of municipalities, stakeholders, and Harvard GSD will advance the disaster preparedness of the region and enable us to better recover when natural disasters strike. TownGreen2025/Gloucester Meetinghouse Foundation has recently secured a Technical Assistance grant program recently from the EPA Building Blocks program. This EPA relationship and program will ensure that the case studies produced by the studies of the Harvard Graduate School of Design Program will have strong access to the new sources of funding in the Biden Administration in 2022 and beyond.

Engaging With Traditionally Underrepresented Communities

By integrating community values and vulnerabilities with scenarios and action, this project aims to co-advance disaster resilience and justice. TownGreen2025 will develop a multi-faceted strategy of community engagement, including ethnographic research in clarifying the stories and attachments to threatened landscapes, and we aim to reach out and listen to traditionally unheard groups. Peer-to-peer sharing would be helpful in this regard.

Advancing the Field of Climate Research and Implementation:

This program and the ensuing follow up will demonstrate these important principals:

  1. That climate programing can advance mitigation, adaption and resilience in a synchronous manner, while advancing the inclusion with equity of underrepresented groups in a community.
  2. That regenerative landscape planning across municipal boundaries is an important tool for both mitigation and adaption, as well as resilience.

Primary Point of Contact:

Dick Prouty, Co-Chair, TownGreen2025, Meetinghouse Foundation. 10 Church Street, Gloucester, MA 01930,, (508) 285-2046
Additional coordinators: Greg Federspiel, Town Manager, Manchester-by-the-Sea
Valerie I. Nelson
, Director, Water Alliance


Posted by Dick Prouty

Dick Prouty

Dick Prouty was the Executive Director of Project Adventure(PA), an international non-profit based in Beverly, MA, for thirty four years, until he recently retired in the winter of 2015. Under Dick’s leadership, PA, whose mission is to advance active learning, has become one of the leading institutions in the experiential education field and is responsible for 500,000 new students per year being introduced to adventure based education classes in physical education, health, fitness, counseling, and in academic classes with integrated experiential learning. Curricula development, training and consulting, publishing books and digital media, leadership development, and organizing and leading learning communities are among the core competencies he has developed over his time at PA.

Dick and his wife, Doris, have lived in Lanesville, Gloucester for the last 43 years, and raised two children, Ila and Seth. He has come to deeply appreciate the special place that is Cape Ann. Along with Co-Chair Candace Wheeler, and a growing number of volunteers of TownGreen2025, Dick is now focused on developing a plan to have Gloucester and Cape Ann make a difference in addressing the threat of climate change.

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