Archive for the ‘Sustainable Planning’ Category

Interested in finding out how your neighborhood stacks up against other parts of the Boston metro area? A wealth of information related to sustainability (as well as many other topics) is available on the MetroBoston DataCommon website. This free resource, a collaboration between the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Boston Indicators Project, allows citizens to easily create and view maps showing data related to the economy, education, housing, public health and safety, transportation, the environment and many other topics for the Boston area.

For a quick look at what this site can do, there is a large gallery of pre-made sample maps available for viewing. Of particular note is a map of renewable energy projects in the metro area. Though the map is from 2008, it provides a useful at-a-glance snapshot of where various types of projects are located. A more recent map of solar photovoltaic installations registered with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is also available. Other sample maps that may be of interest to sustainability-minded readers include MBTA ridership, Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, Massachusetts Smart Growth Zoning, and recycling and compost rates for towns in Massachusetts.

For those who wish to create their own maps, the site also offers a Geocortex-based mapping tool that allows you to create your own custom maps. You can add or subtract layers of data using the toolbar on the right-hand side of the map and zoom in or out using the tools at the top of the screen. When finished, there is an option to save your finished product as a PDF (make sure to cite the source of the information if you are using it in a report). For the uninitiated, there is a very handy tutorial available here, which provides a quick introduction to Geocortex and introduces some basic geographic information system terminology.

Sites like this show the potential of information technology and the Internet to help support an active and informed citizenry.  With their ability to display large sets of arcane data in an easily readable format, such sites allow concerned citizens to spot trends that would otherwise be difficult to notice. Keep in mind, though, that the data sets may be several years out of date. While this site is an extremely useful tool, it would be best used as a starting point to identify areas for further research and not as the last word on a topic.


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The Boston Green Awards will now include the Sustainable Food Leadership Award, which will honor local businesses that demonstrate an extraordinary effort to provide Boston residents and visitors the “freshest, local food in the most sustainable manner.”  The Boston Green Awards recognize residents and businesses for exemplary sustainability practices.  Nominations for the 2011 awards close in March.

The addition of the Sustainable Food Leadership Award reflects the growth of Boston’s sustainable food movement. Between 2004 and 2010, the number of farmers markets in the city more than doubled from 13 to 28. Additionally, Mayor Menino’s Bounty Bucks Program allows Boston residents participating in the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to use their EBT card at participating farmers markets, and receive a 50% discount for the first $20 in goods they purchase.  Last summer, Mayor Menino also officially unveiled an organic chicken farm located on Long Island in Boston Harbor.  For more information about all of Boston’s food initiatives visit the Food section on the City of Boston website.

Like Boston, New York City is working to develop a more sustainable food system to reduce the system’s impacts on the environment.  In November 2010, NYC Councilwoman Christine Quinn announced the creation of FoodWorks, a program designed to bolster upstate New York farms, increase local food production, reduce dietary diseases like obesity, and promote a greener food system. Councilwoman Quinn explained that FoodWorks will not only improve NYC’s food system, but also put New Yorkers to work.

The FoodWorks blueprint is a “ground to garbage approach,” which includes 59 proposals relating to food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and post consumption.  Proposals include expanding farmers markets for small farmers (Union Sqaure GreenMarket seen right), building a permanent space for a wholesale farmers market for medium and large local farmers, and ensuring urban farms are counted in the census to gain more federal resources.  Also, the NYC Council will work to identify city-owned buildings for roof gardens and institute guidelines requiring city agencies to purchase food from local producers.  To improve the city’s food processing and distribution, recommendations include helping food manufacturers gain access to energy efficiency programs and also creating a wash, cut, and bag facility to process local produce to be used by the NYC Department of Education.  Finally, to further reduce environmental damage from the food system, the city will promote residential and commercial composting, and try to increase the use of rail to transport food within the city.  The next steps for FoodWorks will be to establish a NYC Food Council to track progress and elicit nongovernmental input.

While we applaud these efforts to support local farmers, the movement has a tough row to hoe.  In a recent American Prospect article “Slowed Food Revolution”, Heather Rogers identifies hurdles facing organic farmers including higher production costs, higher retail prices, and a smaller infrastructure to process and sell their products.  Also, with government agricultural subsidies, loans, and research funding going largely to conventional farming, non-conventional farmers must climb an even steeper hill to gain market share and compete.  Under the Obama Administration, small steps are being made to support organic farmers.  Rogers reports that the USDA is reforming the National Organic Program to end corruption and is also providing the program more funding.  Time will tell if the sustainable food movement reaches the wider masses.

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In October, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) received a $4 million federal grant to advance smart growth principles that “promote development while protecting the environment, encouraging social and economic equity, and conserving energy and water resources.”  The grant is part of the $100,000,000 Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program that is run by HUD in collaboration with the EPA and U.S. DOT with the goal of empowering regional planning efforts that promote sustainable zoning and land use.

The MAPC, an organization representing 101 communities within Metro Boston, will use the HUD grant to fund its new regional development plan MetroFuture, which is designed to promote smart growth through compact development, focused economic growth, and coordinated transportation alternatives.  This plan was designed by the MAPC with the assistance of over 5,000 residents and organizations through public surveys, workshops, and meetings.  After more than 5 years of development, MetroFuture was adopted by the MAPC in 2008 to replace its previous regional plan, MetroPlan.

To oversee the HUD grant, the MAPC established the Metro Boston Consortium for Sustainable Communities, which is a group comprised of state agencies, advocacy and business organizations, academic institutions and 55 municipalities within Metro Boston.  As a consortium member, the Northeastern Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy is helping to develop tools and indicators to implement MetroFuture and measure its success.  In particular, Northeastern Professor Barry Bluestone is working to develop the regional housing plan, while Professor Stephanie Pollack is developing transportation performance metrics.

Professor Pollack explains that MetroFuture’s major challenge is encouraging towns to plan together to institute a regional plan.  The consortium’s objective is to build partnerships between towns, universities, and professionals across Metro Boston to overcome this challenge.  Professor Pollack explains that incentives for towns to collaborate will include technical assistance, education on sustainable planning, and meeting places to start collaboration.  The $4 million grant has provided momentum to start creating the tools and collaboration necessary to implement MetroFuture.

One of MetroFuture’s primary strategies will be to improve Metro Boston’s transportation system by increasing transit options and focusing more on bikes and walking.  The MAPC sees an excessive focus on auto-oriented projects like the Big Dig.  This smart growth approach will increase mobility, decrease GHG emissions and congestion, and create better health outcomes.

MetroFuture’s sustainable transportation plan marks a shift from focusing on moving people from point A to point B to providing people access to what they need (a shift in focus from mobility to accessibility).  Currently, the consortium is creating indicators to measure whether accessibility improves following MetroFuture’s implementation.  One simple example of measuring accessibility is Walkscore.com, which enables users to calculate an address’s “walkability” along with its accessibility to public transportation through transit-score.  Professor Pollack explained that the consortium will work to complete the indicators over the next year, and then start implementing MetroFuture’s plan over the next two to three years.  MetroFuture has an overall goal “to better the lives of the people who live and work in Metropolitan Boston between now and 2030.”

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