February 2008 Issue Volume 36 Issue 2

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08_meeting.gifLooking Forward to the
2008 ASA Annual Meeting in Boston

Boston: Greener than an Emerald Necklace

by Joan Fitzgerald, Northeastern University

Boston is known for its Emerald Necklace, a chain of parks framing the city designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. More recently Boston is earning another type of green notoriety—as a city that takes global warming seriously. Boston is taking action on both urban sources of greenhouse gas emissions: buildings and transportation.

It is not always evident to the casual observer what determines a city’s high placement on lists of “sustainability” or “green consciousness.” But with keen observation, you will see why Boston ranks highly.


Like many cities, almost 75 percent of Boston’s greenhouse gas emissions are from heating, cooling, and lighting buildings. Cities have two options for reducing building emissions: make existing buildings more efficient and/or require new buildings to be more efficient. Boston is about to announce a major building efficiency initiative under the newly formed Boston Energy Alliance. In January 2007, the city passed a zoning code that requires all new buildings that are 50,000 square feet or larger to meet a new green building standard developed by the city.

Several Boston builders have already gone green. Their buildings have earned certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) national rating system. The LEED green building rating system is a nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. LEED recognizes performance through a point system in five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. Depending on a building’s points accrual, it moves from certified, to silver, gold, and to platinum status. Boston has several noteworthy LEED buildings.

Take Boston’s T (subway system) to Maverick to see one of Boston’s more interesting up-and-coming neighborhoods. Look at the view of Boston and you will understand why. Just three blocks off of Maverick Square is Maverick Landing, the nation’s first LEED certified public housing project. The development has 20 low-rise buildings and one six-story building. It is one of three public housing projects in Boston redeveloped under the federal HOPE VI program. The development offers both subsidized and market-rate housing. Among the features leading to LEED certification are a solar photovoltaic system; a cogeneration system that powers lighting in building common areas, elevators, and provides some hot water; and Energy Starrated lighting and appliances. Many of the subsidized and market-rate units have stunning views of Boston’s skyline and harbor.

The first city-owned green building is the George Robert White Environmental Conservation Center in Mattapan. Renewable energy features include photovoltaic roof shingles, solar thermal panels for water heating; and geo-thermal heat pumps for heating and cooling. Other green features include furniture and carpeting made from recycled material, environmentally sound building materials, advanced insulation, and high-performance glass.

Boston’s first LEED platinum building, the EpiCenter, opened in 2007. It is located at 100 West Second St., on the south waterfront. The building claims the city’s largest solar photovoltaic system and also incorporates passive solar design. The 23,500-square-foot building is the home of Artists for Humanity, a youth arts organization. It was voted one of the top-10 sustainable buildings in the nation by the American Institute of Architects.

Another LEED (gold) building, the Macallen, also opened in 2007 at 141 Dorchester Ave. in South Boston. The unique building slopes from six stories on one side graduating up to 12 stories on the other side. It is a residential building with 140 units. Among its energy efficiency features are a green roof that, along with other water savings devices, means the building will save 600,000 gallons of water annually. Its insulation and efficiency features mean it will require 30 percent less electricity than a comparably sized building. The Macallen is part of an area of new condominium development that follows “smart growth” principles. The area is accessible by public transportation on the T’s red line. It is a mixeduse development, with commercial space on the ground floor of the buildings that features retail and restaurants.

Although not a green building, the Institute of Contemporary Art is the first building on Fan Pier, which will, when completed, be one of the largest LEED certified developments in the country. This $3-billion development will cover nine city blocks, all of which will be built to the city’s new green standards. The mixeduse development will have three million square feet of residential, retail, and commercial space and a hotel.


Transportation creates 18 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. Boston’s efficient public transportation network helps keep this number below that of many cities. Bostonians get to work by public transportation at much higher rates than the rest of the nation. Nationally, the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that 77 percent of Americans drive to work. Only 4.7 percent take public transportation and even less (2.5 percent) walk. In Boston, however, 31.7 percent take public transportation and 12.5 percent walk to work. Although it has a number of problems, the nation’s oldest public transportation system is an efficient way to get around the metropolitan area.

If you must take a taxi, look for one with a green stripe across the back. These are cabs that run on hybrid or alternative fuels. In 2007, Boston’s CleanAir Cabs program began offering incentives to taxi operators to purchase hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles. In addition to saving money on fuel, operators of approved vehicles can keep their taxis on the road longer (up to six years as long as they pass safety inspections) and can enter shorter taxi queues at the airport.

The city is retrofitting its 500 school buses with pollution control devices to run on low-sulfur diesel. The city’s procurement policy requires all new city vehicles to be hybrids or capable or running on alternative fuel.

And That’s Not All

If you head south on 93 you will notice a large wind turbine. Built on the grounds of IBEW Local 103, the turbine is part of the union’s effort to promote renewable energy and to begin training its members in installation and maintenance of facilities. In 2002, Local 103 also installed a solar photovoltaic system on the roof of the training center at the same site. The city is installing renewable energy systems as well—including solar installations on three public schools.

As New England’s largest municipal purchaser of green electricity, Boston is leading by example in urban sustainability. small_green


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