Boston has been selected as one of five U.S. cities to receive an EPA Smart Growth grant called Greening America’s Capitals. It is a project of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities between EPA, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to help state capitals develop an implementable vision of distinctive, environmentally friendly neighborhoods that incorporate innovative green building and green infrastructure strategies.
These pilot projects could contribute to citywide actions, such as changes to local codes and ordinances to better support sustainable growth and green building.
The first of many events to come was the Greening of Government Center held last Thursday at the Boston Public Library. The event was a panel discussion intended to generate public dialog on how to make Government Center a more sustainable place. The discussion was moderated by Ted Landsmark, President of the Boston Architectural College. According to Landsmark "we have an opportunity to think about what it is we can do and Mayor Menino is committed to making it happen."
Presentations by the six well-selected panelists, including Robert Fox Principal of Cook + Fox Architects, Alex Krieger Principal of Chan Krieger Siniewicz + NBBJ, some were inspirational while others were quite sobering.
Bob Fox, the architect responsible for the first tower to obtain Platinum LEED certification presented the audience with the facts. According to Fox 73% of the carbon produced on Earth is from our buildings. It is interesting to note that Mayor Menino and the City of Boston is addressing this issue, the Mayor has already put a plan in place which aims to reduce the carbon footprint 80% by the year 2050. Most of Boston’s building’s are in need of an update to meet this criteria, meaning we need to think critically NOW about how to transform our existing buildings to make them most efficient. Fox suggested generating power on-site as a strategy for City Hall, he said "underground steam occurring in that location would easily support a 50 megawatt co-generation plant."
Landscape architect Chris Reed Principal of Stoss Landscape Urbanism presented a wonderful variety of simple, flexible landscape schemes which were the result of what he describes as the "creative coordination of agenda." Chris also addressed using the steam under City Hall -- but not just for energy. Chris sees steam as a natural method with which to create an interesting aesthetic by releasing it intermittently onto the plaza to produce an interesting, ambient clouding effect.
Matthias Rudolph of Transsolar a climate engineering firm with offices in Germany and now New York City addressed the importance of the quality of the outdoor space; such as wind control, shade and heat control. Comfort is the most important thing for the pedestrian -- if the space is not comfortable the pedestrian WILL NOT be there. According to Matthias "we need to find more efficient ways to do things, we need to find relationships from which to borrow and exchange resources. For example in Helsinki, heat that is generated by large ships is collected and used to heat the city."
Bob, Chris and Matthias encouraged the audience to carefully consider the use of existing resources for new possibilities, using something as simple as STEAM, a readily available resource which could truly benefit City Hall and its plaza.Let’s find a way to use this steam, let’s make energy with it. Let's also give the plaza some ambiance -- how about releasing it and lighting the plumes during the evening? How about using it to heat the plaza during the frigid winter months? Let’s
not only use this time to reimagine but let’s begin the transformation. We can develop these innovative techniques further and make Boston’s government center a model for the rest of the city and others cities around the world.
Kim Poliquin is executive director of SHIFTboston.
Photo: Boston City Hall, 1981. From the Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress, Prints and Photograph Division, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Survey number HABS MA-1176. Lebovich, photographer.