What will Boston be 100 years from now?
Imagine a city with attractive, compact neighborhoods where you can walk to get everything you need. There are no cars or above-ground public transportation. Residents ride bicycles and drive small non-polluting vehicles. The public transportation system is located underground. It provides freight services for all goods and materials arriving from outside the city. Energy efficient housing is constructed on a co-housing model, with small apartments sharing common facilities such as activity and meeting rooms, and communal kitchens and gardens where food is grown and prepared. Local businesses owned by women and minorities play a large role in the economic life of the community.
This is just one vision of how we can build a vibrant, sustainable city that will stand the test of time. Others may have different ideas on sustainability. But there is a consensus among government officials, business leaders and community-based organizations that the urban environment must be improved on all fronts – social, economic and environmental – in order for tomorrow’s cities to fulfill their role as the most ecological places on the planet for people to live.
Race and economic inequality in Boston is an environmental issue. At one recent sustainability meeting, a black community leader defined what sustainability means to the average inner city black man: Making it to the age of thirty without an arrest record! No one can envision a sustainable Boston where people lack equal access to health, education, and jobs.
If we can make Boston an attractive, affordable place for people to live, we can reverse the “flight to the suburbs” that has caused the average commute to increase 19% from 1990 to 2000. According to Massachusetts Audubon’s Losing Ground report, the amount of land in the state lost to sprawl development was 78 acres per day from 1985 to 1999. Spreading development causes additional stress on wildlife populations, increases water usage and pollution, and increases greenhouse gas emissions.
When development occurs within the City of Boston, it is the responsibility of Mayor Menino’s Green Building Task Force to ensure that it meets energy conservation guidelines. In 1993, the Task Force recommended that all City facilities be certified as “green” and that large projects reviewed under Boston zoning be required to meet green standards within three years.
To date, some of the Task Force’s accomplishments include Artists for Humanity’s EpiCenter in Fort Point Channel. It features Boston’s largest solar photovoltaic energy array and includes a water reclamation system that allows the reclaimed water to be re-used on site. On the new South Boston waterfront, Manulife Financial’s US headquarters uses a double-skin curtain wall system to reduce both cooling and heating costs and a rooftop garden to provide extra insulation and reduce stormwater runoff.
While giant multi-nationals such as Manulife construct LEED-certified buildings in large, planned development areas, an estimated 40,000 entrepreneurs in Massachusetts operate in urban environments. These inner-city entrepreneurs are the social and economic bulwarks of their communities, providing a critical employment buffer during economic downturns and, according to one study, 2.5 times more charitable contributions per employee than their medium- or large-sized counterparts.
The Business Summit for a Sustainable Boston is an opportunity for these businesses to learn about sustainability initiatives through networking with other business owners and representatives from city programs such as the Backstreets and Mainstreets programs, the Office of Business Development, and the Environment Department. The next summit will be held March 29th at Boston City Hall.
Susan Labandibar is co-chair of the Business Summit for a Sustainable Boston, a steering committee member of the Responsible Business Association of Boston, and an advisory board member of the Inner City Entrepreneurs program. She is the owner of Computer Warehouse, a Boston firm that provides computer and network services to local businesses and individuals.