It was a breath of fresh air on a cold winter morning in Boston last Saturday. Right across the street from where I’m staying with friends for a couple of weeks, Mayor Marty Walsh was on-hand for a unique open house – part of the city’s E+ (Energy Positive) Green Building Program.
The Greek Revival duplex units on city-owned land are still in the framing phase, but are going to become a highly efficient 2,780 feet of living space for affordable housing in Roxbury. Certified as LEED Platinum Plus by the U.S. Green Building Council, the dwellings will require very little energy for day to day operation and, on a yearly basis, exceed those needs with onsite renewable energy sources.
I followed the developers around as they showed the mayor what’s planned for the two-and-a-half stories – super insulation to reduce heating and cooling needs, photovoltaic panels for generating electricity and solar thermal panels for hot water, recycled building materials. No furnace and no gas lines are needed. Utility bills will be way down, and minimal dust will mean the indoor air quality is also much better. (See www.sagebuilders.com for more).
Boston is already ranked the most energy efficient city in the country and a national leader in green building. I asked Mayor Walsh if he sees a growing emphasis on local efforts to combat climate change in the age of Trump. He nodded and spoke about a gathering of the bipartisan Conference of Mayors in Washington the previous week where, in addition to health care and immigration, the primary focus was on climate and energy efficiency.
“It’s going to be incumbent on mayors across America to step up,” Walsh told me. “We don’t yet know what the policy in Washington is on climate. But we’ve set a goal to be a zero-carbon city by 2050. We’re doing energy audits on large-scale buildings and will continue to work with contractors and developers in building many more green energy buildings.”
Last June, Walsh traveled to Beijing, joining mayors from the U.S. and across China for the second Climate-Smart Low-Carbon Cities Summit. As the world’s two largest economies, America and China are also responsible for more than one third of global greenhouse gas emisssions. And cities within their new network have committed to reducing those emissions by one gigaton of CO2 by 2020, equivalent to more than Germany’s total annual emissions.
Walsh served as Vice-Chair of the China meeting and Boston will host this year’s summit. As Walsh wrote in the Huffington Post, his city “intends to lead the country in preparing for the impacts of climate change through Climate Ready Boston, an innovative, data-driven approach to identify climate resiliency strategies.” In 2016, Walsh and the city’s Public Facilities Department unveiled new high-efficiency LED exterior lighting at City Hall. “Yet it’s the work in neighborhoods that really drives progress,” the mayor added.
That’s why Walsh came to view the progress at 156-160 Highland Street, where the site uses sustainable local building materials and includes storm water management and indigenous landscaping. Sixty nearby green and affordable units are also on the drawing board. (See www.EPositiveBoston.org) In attendance, too, were the developers of the first mixed-use apartment building project to achieve Passive House certification in Massachusetts, a couple miles away on Mission Hill, aimed at achieving close to net zero energy (www.missionhillflats.com) while hosting forty residential rental apartments and four commercial/retail spaces. The mayor also received a research paper analyzing examples of citizen-led, affordable cooperative housing in Boston, New York, and Washington – a means of rehabilitating abandoned housing for low and middle-income residents that could be added to the green portfolio.
All of which, on the same day that thousands of people rallied at airports including Boston’s to protest the Trump administration’s ban on refugees and citizens from seven Muslim countries, was a heartening moment amid the chaos and uncertainty of these times.