Saturday, September 1, 2012

What Boston can Learn from Malmo: (re)Developing a zero energy city

hello again.  I thought before I get into the actual experience of traveling to, living in, and studying sustainable and zero energy neighborhoods, I should give a little information on the background of this project.

for starters, the John Worthington Ames Scholarship and selection committee is what made this experience possible.  the John Worthington Ames Scholarship was established in 1955 by Mrs. John Worthington Ames in memory of her husband, a distinguished Boston architect and dedicated supporter of the Boston Architectural College.  "the scholarship is used to further personal development through educational experience related to architecture and design.  the Ames Committee defines 'educational experience' as one that would develop mental, artistic, or cultural capacities."

secondly, I need to start by thanking my wife, Lauren, who has supported me through this process even though I told her I wanted to go to Sweden and not Spain, Italy, or some warm, beautiful, deserted island to study sustainable design.  I also need to thank Anne, Lauren's mom, who put the idea back into my head that I should apply for this opportunity.

so what's the idea?  the idea is simple and the story I told to the Selection Committee was broken into three parts (thanks Zach C):

  1. there's this problem (thanks Chip P) which is that sustainable design is being addressed one building at a time and therefore we are not making improvements fast enough to combat global warming and other negative trends.  
  2. there's this place where people are working to solve this problem (Sweden, specifically Malmo and Stockholm).  in this place they are creating neighborhoods that are aiming to be (or already are) zero energy, thus paving the way for others to learn from their experience, enterprise, and experimentation.
  3. someone needs to go to this place and study this solution so that we (here in Boston) can learn from their experience.  that someone, in this case, is me.

the original essay that led to being selected by the Committee to present on the "short list" is also very simple.  there are three parts (this is an abstract that I created describing my idea rather than showing you the whole essay):

the more we build the more harm we cause to the earth.  we need to look beyond simply making an energy efficient building and attempt to approach the built environment in more of a holistic manner by addressing the community, the surrounding environment, and the people who inhabit that environment. we don't need another green building that does good for its tiny footprint; we need a network of green buildings, we need green neighborhoods, green cities, and green people.
one of the best examples in the world of a successful city parcel redevelopment is the neighborhood of Vastra Hamnen in the seaport district of Malmo, Sweden.  started in 1998 in preparation for the 2001 European Housing Exposition, the Western Harbor was redeveloped from a once vibrant shipbuilding port into a (mostly) residential community, revitalized by a comprehensive master plan that catalyzed around energy use, shared systems, and livable streets.  this super efficient, zero energy neighborhood on the waterfront serves as a successful jumping off point for Malmo as a whole, which aims to rely 100% on renewable energy by 2030.  cities such as Boston and Cambridge have much in common with Malmo and much to learn.  similar in size, scale, density, diversity of inhabitants, focus on academic and intellectual capital, physical features, and climate, Boston is a prime candidate to download the rich and extensive experience that has already taken place in Vastra Hamnen and Malmo over the last ten years.
I am going to Sweden to study Vastra Hamnen and other zero energy neighborhoods.  I will connect with people who live, work, and experience these communities first hand.  I will meet with stakeholders, policy makers, and people who envisioned these neighborhoods to learn about their process and hear more directly about the successes and failures of their work.  with this information I will return to Boston to share my findings to the public with local stakeholders in community development in an effort to facilitate a similar transformation and positive growth in Boston and beyond.

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