The Massachusetts Department of Transportation recently finalized a transportation infrastructure plan to fund repairs, improvements, and some new expansion projects. A Better City worked closely with MassDOT throughout the process to gain commitments on important transportation projects that are essential to the components of the Massachusetts economy and our quality of life.
The final plan approved by MassDOT totals $14. 8 Billion, which will spend over the next five years. A Better City is pleased to see the state’s is moving forward a few large and complex projects including the Green Line Extension, South Station Expansion, and the I-90 Interchange area in Allston. Our top priority for in the short term is infrastructure improvements for the Seaport District in Boston. The MassDOT capital plan contains funding to address the needs of this rapidly growing area, through a commitment to spend $25 Million on transportation improvements. Some projects identified in the 2015 South Boston Waterfront Transportation Plan will be implemented with this money and A Better City together with state and city agencies are leading the effort to identify specific projects that will begin this fiscal year.
There are many other important projects included the capital plan, from State of Good Repair improvements at the MBTA, additional surface buses, and funding for the Compete Streets Program, which will benefit many communities throughout Massachusetts. The next phase for MassDOT will be in delivering on this budget blueprint. A Better City will be working with them to advocate for management reforms that assist in getting this infrastructure work completed as planned. We also will continue to recommend new projects that address the economic, population, and . . .
The latest generation of urban dwellers wants to live and work in urban places that provide opportunities to play, exercise, eat, and shop. This urban trend puts what is known as the “public realm” in the center of urban design and planning. Public realm refers to all open and enclosed spaces that can be accessed and used by the public. We are currently witnessing a growing interest in reclaiming the public realm for social, cultural and economic activities and American cities are no stranger to this trend. Until the mid-20th century, the public realm was the center of urban life. However, with the rise of the automobile industry and suburban development that privileged private homes and spaces, Americans started to slowly abandon the public sphere. Shopping malls grew faster than commercial Main Streets. Enclosed arcades replaced outdoor carnivals. Gym memberships substituted daily strolls in the park. By the end of the 20thcentury, the public realm of American cities became a leftover space between buildings, a space of transition rather than connection.
As land development patterns continue to shift towards higher density and mixed-use development, the public realm is regaining the attention it deserves as a vital part of urban life. This new generation of urban dwellers is not only reclaiming the public realm but also redefining it dramatically. Years ago, urban dwellers were happy with more straightforward public spaces for relaxing. Today, city residents expect spaces to perform. People want more than a beautiful urban space; they want places that allow them to interact with other people and their surroundings. A vibrant, inclusive, and adaptable public realm is key for any city to stay attractive and competitive while also asserting its place as a global city. At the same time, resources for public spaces and . . .
The Climate Ready Boston initiative – an effort started by Mayor Martin Walsh last October - recently released its climate projections for the Greater Boston region. These represent a consensus on the future of the region according to leading scientists, universities and previously published work. This report forecasts increases in rainfall, higher temperatures, and affirms that the sea level is rising. Although some sea level rise is inevitable, our ability to limit this increase and protect our city largely depends on the energy choices and climate defense strategies we make today. Taking moderate steps to reduce emissions will see a rise in sea-level in Boston by 2100 that will impact much of downtown Boston and the Seaport district. If we continue upon our current trajectory of GHG outputs, we could see sea level rise by 6 feet or more, a level that almost certainly means regular flooding and severe water damage to public and private sector infrastructure. Reducing our GHG emissions and increasing our reliance on renewables and energy efficient technologies is critical to preventing the worst-case climate scenarios.
Currently the Climate Ready Boston team is finalizing the identification of critical resiliency focus areas and their climate vulnerabilities where focused attention and public-private partnerships will be necessary to prepare for projected climate impacts. In addition, the team is working to develop a portfolio of solutions across the City and in certain key business districts with identified vulnerabilities.
A Better City understands that timely and aggressive action from the Boston business community is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make smart investments in climate defense. We have been leading private-sector engagement in the
The Challenge for Sustainability (Challenge) has continued to engage internal and external stakeholders in an effort to evolve this long-standing, successful program. As part of the planning process, Challenge staff analyzed accomplishments since the program’s inception in 2009 which include an annual increase in participating square footage around 24%, an aggregate annual electricity reduction around 1%, and an aggregate annual greenhouse gas emissions reduction around 2% per year. This keeps Challenge participants on track to reach the City and State goals of 25% GHG reduction by 2020. To recognize this success, Challenge coordinators hosted the 7th annual Challenge for Sustainability Awards in March which included comments from the City of Boston’s Chief of the Environment, Austin Blackmon, and featured President of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Ken Kimmell as the keynote speaker. Awards were given for the greatest greenhouse gas, energy, water, and waste reduction as well as the annual Peer Award. Additionally, three Challenge participants were added to the ‘Target 2020 Leaders’ plaque which recognizes individual facilities and organizations for their accomplishment of the 25% by 2020 goal. A Better City is currently refining a draft plan to take the Challenge forward with a goal of launching an updated version in 2017.
With the help of renewable energy consultancy CustomerFirst Renewables, A Better City issued a 100,000MWh request for proposals to the developer community on December 1st, 2015. We received a highly competitive response with bids from Maine to Texas with pricing that vastly exceeded our expectations. The A Better City CO-REP now include a large university as well as a hospital, parking garage and park and commercial real estate assets. The finalist project is a 60MWac solar farm located in the northeast corner of North Carolina. It is expected to produce 150,000MWh per year and participants will be purchasing power from the project at a fixed price lower than the current wholesale market rate for 25 years.
Additionally, Garrett Sprague represented the project on a panel focused on aggregating demand at the Washington DC convening of the Association of Climate Change Officers. Stakeholders have been invited by the project developers to take a helicopter tour of the site which is scheduled for July 21st. A Better City is incredibly grateful to Larry DiCara and Ruth Silman from Nixon Peabody, LLC for their assistance and guidance throughout this process and to the impressive leadership of those leading the charge at participating organizations.
Finally, with the announcement of the extension of the federal Business Energy Investment Tax Credit at the end of 2015, A Better City would be open to replicating this collaborative procurement model in 2016/2017. . . .
This past May, A Better City TMAs worked with our MassCommute colleagues to host the most successful MassCommute Bicycle Challenge (MCBC) yet. As has now become customary, MCBC rode into another record year. In just nine days, cyclists from all across the Commonwealth cycled over 156,000 miles, exemplifying the Challenge’s mission – promoting cycling as a healthy, inexpensive and eco-friendly transportation option. We’re very proud to announce that our member Mass General Hospital came in second in the 5000+ employee category.
In conjunction with the Challenge, both A Better City and Allston Brighton TMA held our annual bike tune ups and breakfasts at our member’s locations. These breakfasts are our most popular events throughout the year. We worked with local bike shops to do bike breakfasts at 21 member locations, tuning up a grand total of 214 bikes. These free bike tune ups are our way of rewarding our bikers for their sustainable commuting choice, making sure they’re safe on the road, and encouraging them to continue to cycle not just during National Bike Month, but all year . . .
At the last meeting of the South Boston Stakeholders Committee, MassDOT Highway Administration Tom Tinlin announced that the Baker Administration’s capital budget will include $25 million for infrastructure improvements in the waterfront area. A Better City worked to include this $25 million in the last bond bill and it is exciting to hear that this money will now be released and used to improve transportation efforts in this much needed area.
The South Boston Waterfront Transportation Master Plan, released in January 2015 in collaboration with A Better City included short term recommendations such as Silver Line signal enhancements, pedestrian and bicycle improvements, and new signage in the area. The $25 million in capital investment from the state will be used towards the mid-term initiatives identified in the plan, which include larger initiatives such as new Silver Line vehicles, design work to expand roadway connections, water transport, and possible work related to the Northern Avenue bridge rehabilitation. In the next few months, A Better City will be working with the related city and state agencies to develop a list of priority . . .
On April 8th A Better City convened the first meeting of the Interagency Working Group for the Go Boston 2030 Public Realm Planning Study and Action Plan. This project is part of the Go Boston 2030 initiative coordinated by the Boston Transportation Department. The study and action plan aims to unleash the power of placemaking and other forms of urban improvement in transforming Boston’s public realm related to transportation networks. As defined by our study, placemaking is a people-based approach to planning and design of public realm, focused on elements that enhance the experience of living, working and playing in a place. Examples of placemaking include the closure of streets for cultural festivals or recreational activities, or transforming on-street parking into temporary pocket parks. Public realm is a broader term for public space. It defines public space as all publicly owned spaces in the city, not only squares and parks.
The core objectives of the Public Realm Planning Study and Action Plan are to celebrate local placemaking initiatives, identify implementation challenges, and enable public realm interventions through regulation reform and new guidelines. In Phase I of the study, David Dixon, a principal of Stantec, led the analysis of the state of the public realm in Boston, a survey of inspirational ideas, and the development of an analytical method to assess the effectiveness of placemaking, which he presented at the Interagency Working Group meeting.
During the April 8th meeting, six city departments presented their current public realm and placemaking initiatives. The major takeaway was that local government is working hard to transform Boston’s public realm into a more vibrant and inclusive place. The Boston Redevelopment Authority continues to ensure a human-centered public realm . . .
The climate resiliency conversation has moved into warp drive in Boston. Narrowly missing the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on New York City and coastal areas of New Jersey, as well as experiencing last winter’s crippling effects on business as usual, climate resilience and preparedness has emerged as a policy priority for Boston and the region.
This year, Mayor Walsh and the City of Boston launched Climate Ready Boston (CRB) led by the Environment, Energy and Open Space Cabinet in collaboration with the Green Ribbon Commission. CRB will provide a planning framework and technical foundation for long-term climate preparedness, consistent with the City’s Climate Action Plan.
This two phase initiative will be undertaken over two years. Phase I began in October 2015 and includes:
With the 2016 Kickoff and 7th Annual Challenge for Sustainability Awards behind us, The Challenge for Sustainability is now well underway in its 8th year. This year, the Challenge is focused on increasing peer-to-peer learning and creating connections between participants with similar goals to develop creative strategies to overcome barriers to implementation. Throughout April, Challenge Staff have been meeting one-on-one with participants to help them understand their patterns of past utility use (as tracked through the Challenge Scorecard and Portfolio Manager). This allows participants to identify opportunities in building sustainability and create targeted and actionable goals for 2016 and onward.
The Challenge is continuing to provide peer-to-peer programming that focuses on the technical/operational side of building sustainability. The first of these meetings will explore groundwater reclamation. In addition to regular peer-to-peer meetings, this year the Challenge will host several events that focus on the broader context of sustainability. The first of these meetings will be in late June. All members of the A Better City community are invited to join Challenge participants in attending these events; invitations for June will be sent out soon.
The Challenge will also be continuing to promote the successes of program participants as they work towards reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and improving building sustainability. On March 24th, 2016, Challenge participants and stakeholders joined together to celebrate the participants with exemplary success in 2015. Five major awards were presented and three Challenge participants were added to the Target 2020 Leaders Plaque. For a full list of 7th Annual Challenge for Sustainability Awards . . .