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.

welcome (välkommen)

hello and welcome to my first attempt (ever) at a blog.  I know it is surprising that someone who talks and writes as much as I do has not yet created one, but I was waiting for something truly important that is deserving of the time and energy it takes to write and post in a manner worthy of sharing with others.  I wanted to let you know a couple pieces of valuable information before you get into reading here.

  1. this blog may evolve over time.  the catalyst and starting point is the John Worthington Ames Scholarship that I won this past May which has allowed me to travel to Sweden and beyond to study zero energy and sustainable neighborhoods and cities.  A special thanks to the founders of the Ames Scholarship and to the Selection Committee, led by Bernie Goba of the BAC.
  2. one of the biggest challenges for me in writing a blog is understanding the audience.  I decided that rather than try to understand this unknown, I will write with my voice about whatever interests me and if others are interested that's great.  to that end, if you are reading this and have interest in anything specific or questions or ideas, please let me know.  it is entirely possible that while I am here in Sweden (and Denmark) I can explore a little on your behalf, especially if your interest is in something sustainable, architectural, etc.  also, if I talk about something and it interests you, let me know.  there's always more research to do and I can pretty much guarantee that I am only posting some of the pictures I take on any one thing, so you can ask for another post with more pics or info.
  3. I am not very interested in capitalization at the beginning of sentences.  I always capitalize the personal pronoun "I" and I do love grammar but that's where it ends.  so I guess that means I will capitalize proper nouns (like Vastra Hamnen or Sweden) and anything else I deem important, but not the first word in a sentence.  sorry if that annoys people.  hopefully you'll get used to it
  4. I can't promise to be reliable and post every day.  one of my favorite  blogs is by a guy who uses the handle bikesnobNYC.  he writes about all sorts of bicycle related news, stories, etc.  he has quite a following and posts every day before noon (he jokes that he is a professional blogger, which he is) and when he doesn't post by noon or takes a vacation with his family his readers get pretty upset!  famous last words: don't worry... I am not trying to be a professional blogger.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog.  it's delicious!