Mayor Walsh Transition Committee Public Hearing on Environment

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Newly elected Boston mayor Marty Walsh has appointed experts to several different committee areas to serve as aides in his transition to the role.  The process also involves public hearings to allow Boston residents and other stakeholders to voice their opinions in the desired format of: keep, implement and dream.  The hearing on Environment was held on January 7th at English High School in Jamaica Plain.  More than fifty people stood up – representing themselves as citizens, environmental organizations, park groups and others – to ask for the following:

Parks

  • Encouragement of visitation to Boston Harbor Islands National Park
  • 2016 anniversary celebration of the Park Service
  • Better maintenance of Mission Hill parks and increased recreational facilities
  • Audit to ensure environmental justice by neighborhood, equitable distribution of green space
  • More “rec” in Parks & Rec, sports and educational programs in parks
  • youth employment in public parks
  • East Boston Greenway walking/biking trail
  • implement policies for old and large trees
  • encourage visitation to Allendale Woods and other urban wilds
  • permanent protection for Hellenic Hill
  • plant 12,000 trees/year
  • keep parks friends groups associations
  • 1996 Boston Common management plan to prevent misuse and overuse
  • increase number of park rangers
  • hire an innovative parks commissioner
  • increase parks department budget to 1% of city budget
  • raise the three historic parks to highest level of excellence
  • hire a dedicated superintendent for public gardens (last one was 1906)
  • use best practices for park maintenance
  • management plans for all parks
  • simplify permitting for events in park
  • permit fees should be an income stream for park restoration
  • no driving on parkland
  • support for cultural programming
  • Franklin Park clubhouse turned into a restaurant and restoration of crumbling buildings
  • cessation of chemicals to maintain parks
  • park system wide volunteer program
  • better lighting in parks
  • Mayor’s office should become actively involved in Muddy River restoration project
  • Better maintenance of tennis courts as well as improved waste and water facilities

Toxic Substances

Green Jobs & Businesses

  • Minority inclusion in the “green economy”
  • job creation through recycling and composting
  • green internships for youth
  • Build on momentum Boston has for leadership and encourage innovation

Waste Management

  • zero-waste master planning that engages community and creates “green” jobs
  • open up participation in waste management for small start-ups
  • increase recycling to 50% citywide by 2020
  • “pay as you throw”
  • Restrict burning of trash

Climate Change & Flooding

  • Use new research to enact precautionary policies
  • restrict new building in flood zones
  • incentives for moving out of flood zones with housing lotteries
  • climate predictions for public health and emergency management procedures
  • increased private and public partnerships on climate change issues
  • call municipal officials and other stakeholders together for climate adaptation summit
  • regional planning for climate change issues
  • Address the fact that climate change is an equity issue – poor disproportionately affected by high heat days
  • Climate change should factor into all city decisions

Energy 

  • no new fossil fuel infrastructure purchases
  • Fix gas pipeline leaks
  • pressure energy conservation from businesses
  • promote solar panel installation and solar shares for renters
  • anti-idling laws
  • retro-fit city vehicles for diesel

Education

  • Environmental literacy for children
  • outdoor learning environments
  • hire school superintendent that understands sustainability

Public Transportation

  • discounted T-passes for students
  • expand bike network and analyze gaps

Water

  • Water conservation
  • gray water and rainwater usage resulting in job creation
  • keep the right to water policy and commission a study of discrimination in water shut offs
  • reduce storm water pollution in Charles River
  • Maintain groundwater monitoring

Urban Agriculture

  • Encouragement for locally grown food and farmers markets
  • allow residents to have chickens and beehives
  • community garden expansion, 1,000 more community garden plots in 4 years
  • urban agriculture expansion
  • use yard waste as composting in community gardens
  • keep Boston Office of Food Initiatives
  • Turn Brook Farm into a community farm and educational center

Organizations Represented

The hearing can be viewed on the Boston Neighborhood Network website.

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Friday Night Services With Beantown Jewish Gardens Director Leora Mallach

VilnaShul

Tucked away on Beacon Hill’s quiet Philips Street is an early 20th century synagogue known as the Vilna Shul.  Originally serving Lithuanian Jewish immigrants living in Boston’s West End neighborhood, it no longer has a full-time congregation but is being slowly restored to its former glory while hosting a few religious and cultural events each month.  Once a month, Friday night services are held with a guest speaker invited to give a talk.  This past Friday, Leora Mallach, co-founder and director of Ganei Beantown (Beantown Jewish Gardens), spoke about biblical laws dictating a rest year for the health of agricultural land.  Ganei Beantown seeks to build community by educating and promoting the connection between Judaism, food and agriculture.  Among their work has been the establishment of organic gardens at synagogues and an annual sustainability-themed conference.

Mallach’s talk was timed to coincide with the upcoming minor holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the “new year” for trees which technically serves as a reference date for laws relating to tithing and land use.  However, in modern times it has become a day for ecological awareness in Israel and many people have adopted the practice of planting trees.  Traditionally, though, the custom is to eat fruits that begin to appear at this time of year in Israel including dates, grapes and figs.

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Troubled Waters – Boston Society of Architects Forum

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Image:Sasaki Associates

On Tuesday, the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) hosted a panel discussion to a packed crowd on tackling the issue of sea-level rise in Boston at their financial district exhibition center BSASpace.  The panel consisted of Chris Reed of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, Hubert Murray of Partners Healthcare and Nina Chase of Sasaki Associates.  A very amusing Tom Ashbrook from WBUR served as moderator.  So many ideas circulated and from a design perspective, there appeared to be optimism that adapting Boston to climate change-induced sea-level rise was a manageable problem.  Murray, one of the architects behind the newly built and flood-resistant Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown, pointed out that “Boston is in denial about its topography.”  Check out a map of Boston from the colonial era and it is easy to see how much of our city was originally underwater and those are the areas – valuable real estate along the waterfront, Back Bay, South End and large sections of South Boston – which are vulnerable to returning waters.  A report last year from the Boston Harbor Association (BHA) showing which areas would flood with sea-level rise has piqued interest in the topic.  Reed’s position is that Boston must “let the water in” rather than retreat to the interior.  Learning to live with it around us can mean a variety of structures like canals, floodable green areas or first floors modified for uses allowing contents to be temporarily moved and able to withstand floodwaters.  Plans from London, Seoul and other cities were discussed but there is, however, no Boston plan.  A young representative from the City’s Environment department was put on the spot but she merely invited the public to submit ideas to the Greenovate website.  Clearly the discussion is in the very early stages which is alarming since, according to the BHA, Boston narrowly missed Nemo, Sandy and Hercules hitting at high tide which would have been disastrous.  Our luck can only run for so long, what are we waiting for?  Well the conversation turned from bright design ideas to the sobering reality that there is no political will, nor funding, to come to grips with the flooding issue.  The City would struggle to implement grand infrastructure plans, the rest of the state is fed up with money being funneled to Boston for decades and private enterprise has no reason to commit itself to preserving Boston when it can just move inland.  But, as Murray pointed out, no community has ever voluntarily given up its home so it remains to be seen what sort of interest this topic will generate and what shape it will ultimately take.

This forum was organized to complement the current issue of ArchitectureBoston, the quarterly publication of the BSA, titled Coast.  The entire issue is available online and makes for very interesting reading.

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