Bermanism | Urban Design Studio

Cities by Sea
Urban Design Studio
Rafi Segal, Alan Berger, Jonah Susskind
Fall 2017

Chelsea, MA is an industrial waterfront town near Boston. As a predominantly minority and predominantly industrial city, Chelsea faces a host of environmental problems, mostly stemming from years of industrial activity that have polluted the water and the air. These industrial functions all have priority access to the Chelsea Creek and Mystic River fronts, disconnecting residents of the city from one of their most essential assets: the water.  

But access to this water also has its own risks: this industrial area is the most vulnerable to sea level rise and pluvial flooding, located in the infill of the historic Island’s End Creek. Without proper attention, this area faces serious flooding hazards. But rather than reduce Chelsea’s coastline with a barrier at the entrance to Island End’s Creek, as many resiliency initiatives may suggest, we pose a different question: What if we expand the coastline and invite the water in? 

To determine the extent of our new coastline, we identified three pieces of critical infrastructure: The New England Produce Center, the MBTA commuter rail, and Everett Avenue.

To protect these three critical, assets we propose returning a large-low lying swath of industrial land to coastal use and creating a multi-functional berm which emphasizes connections between the now protected and newly floodable sides of the evolving city. Protecting these three pieces of infrastructure and releasing some of the floodable land results in numerous positive externalities: access to open and recreational space, reduced and reconcentrated industrial activity, and economic growth generated by investment. 

Unlike other berms, we believe this strategy describes a new urban condition we call bermanism. Bermanism is “the utilization of a berm not to protect as much land as possible, but as a strategic marker which differentiates areas of up-zoning (increased urban intensity) with areas of down-zoning (return to green space and recreational use)". As a marker, the berm functions as the primary access point by which flood-able areas are connected to those that are protected by its existence. The following views create a narrative describing the urban conditions created by the berm.