• About the Project
Sustainable Development

Sustainable development refers to patterns of growth that integrate environmental and human health, economic dynamism, and social cohesion and equity.  Sustainable development is multi-dimensional by definition: biodiversity health; the availability of jobs at a living age; regional and per capita carbon dioxide emissions; the availability of fresh water and open spaces; the number of miles of sidewalks and bike paths; equitable access to public transit; vehicle miles travelled; the level of income inequality; social capital.  Investing in sustainable development not only protects our ecological surroundings by reducing greenhouse gases and global warming, but also provides for equitable access to healthy choices for community members, which can increase the quality of life.  This cross-cut filter provides a framework for understanding patterns and trends in Greater Boston’s commitment to sustainable development and the impact of Bostonians’ everyday choices on the future of the region's ecological, economic and social environments.   

Indicators in this topic:
1.7.2 Universal Accessibility + collapse
Why is this important?

Universal accessibility is essential to creating an inclusive community.  There is a growing movement to apply the principles of universal design to public spaces.  Elements of this design - which include entryways without stairs, wide doors and halls, lever door handles and the use of icons as well as text in signage - ensure that products, environments, and communications respond to the needs of the widest possible array of users.  This includes access to education, employment and voting.  Without accessibility in design, a significant portion of Massachusetts residents would be prohibited from contributing to the region’s civic vitality.

How are we doing?

Universal Design of the city and its buildings is essential to ensuring quality of life for the roughly 12% of Bostonians (about 70,000) with audio, visual, cognitive, ambulatory or self-care difficulties with consideration of needs across life stages.  In the same time, some 5% of children under 18, 9% of the working-age population aged 18 to 64 and 43% of those 65 years and older had some disability.

A number of resources are available in Boston for those of all abilities, including:

Institute for Human Centered Design, formerly Adaptive Environments, is a Boston-based design and advocacy organization promoting universal design locally and globally.

City of Boston Commission for Persons with Disabilities oversees all ADA compliance in the Boston and provides access to resources in housing, travel, employment, education and community outreach;

Mass Office of Travel and Tourism lists all accessible travel and points of interest that are accessible to people with disabilities

Massachusetts Office on Disability supports key state initiatives such as ADA compliance, Community Access Monitor Training, the Model Employer Initiative and more.

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5.1.1 Greenhouse Gas Emissions + collapse
Why is this important?

The burning of fossil fuels for cars and trucks, heating of homes and other buildings, running machines, computers and factories is the primary sources of C02 emissions in industrialized regions.  Methane, the other major greenhouse gas (GHG), is emitted when garbage and waste decomposes in landfills.  Greenhouse gases are also emitted from agriculture, particularly cattle raising and mining.  In addition, deforestation removes a carbon sink, as plants consume carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, contributing to increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon.

How are we doing?

The city of Boston's total greenhouse gas emissions fell to 7,880,000 metric tons in 2010 from 8,365,000 in 2005, with per capita emissions falling from 13.7 metric tons per person in 2005 to 12.8 in 2010. 

The largest share of all GHG emissions come from commercial and industrial uses which fell from 4,510,000 metric tons in 2005 to 4,110,000 in 2010.  Emissions from the second largest contributor, transportation, fell from 2,340,000 metric tons in 2005 to 2,280,000 in 2010.  Residential emissions fell slightly from 1,480,000 metric tons in 2005 to 1,460,000 in 2010.

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5.2.2 Waste and recycling tonnage and rates + collapse
Why is this important?

Reducing consumption is the most effective method of waste management.  Reusing items by repairing, donating them for others to use, or selling them also reduces waste.  Reusing is preferable to recycling because the item does not need to be reprocessed before being used again, but recycling turns materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources and new products and it provides a host of environmental, financial, and social benefits.  

How are we doing?

Boston's total trash and waste tonnage fell to 202,000 tons in 2010 from more than 208,000 in the previous year while the total tonnage of recycling more than doubled from 21,000 tons in 2009 to more than 46,000 tons in 2010.  This works out to 0.8 tons of trash and 0.2 tons of recycling per household served in Boston in 2010.

Enlarge Total Trash & Waste Tonnage Enlarge Total Recycling Tonnage
5.3.3 Environmental Hazard Points per Square Mile + collapse
Why is this important?
Environmental hazard points are the chemical, biological and physical places and opportunities for exposure to toxins, low air quality, polluted water and radioactivity.
How are we doing?

In Greater Boston, the highest concentration of environmental hazards are located in cities and towns with higher poverty rates and larger concentrations of children, such as Chelsea with 188 per square mile, followed by Cambridge with 167, Everett with 165.5, Somerville with 135 and Boston with 121 per square mile.

Enlarge Environmental Hazard Points per Square Mile
5.4.1 Trends in Climate Change, Metro Boston and New England + collapse
Why is this important?
Global warming can lead to volatile and extreme weather patterns such as floods, droughts and storms that affect the quality and security of the natural and built environments. Conditions linked to global warming are projected to influence agricultural yields, cause coastal flooding as sea levels rise from the melting of glacial ice, and affect human health. Tracking trends in climate change helps us to raise awareness of the global impact of human activity and the importance of using energy more efficiently and innovating new technologies.

How are we doing?
On average, Boston experienced ten days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and one day above 100 degrees between 1961 and 1999, with a maximum nineteen days above 90 in 1985 and five days above 100 in 1968, according to the Northeast Climate Impact Assessment.

However, the number of extreme heat days in Boston is projected to rise considerably over the next century.  Based on a high emissions scenario, between 2000 and 2099, Boston could experiences an average of 37 days above 90 degrees and 10 days above 100 degrees, with some projections showing as many as 80 days above 90 and 40 days above 100 degrees in a single year.  Even based on a low-emissions scenario, Boston could experience and average 23 days and as many as 51 days above 90 degrees in a single year and an average of 4 days with as many as 13 days above 100 degrees in a single year.

Enlarge Number of Days Above 90 Degrees, Low & High Emissions Scenario Enlarge Number of Days Above 90 Degrees, Low & High Emissions Scenario
5.4.3 Residential & Commercial Energy Use by Type, Boston + collapse
Why is this important?
Reducing the energy use of structures across the Boston area, and the world, are critical to our efforts of reducing building-associated greenhouse gas emissions. A continued, reducing trajectory of this metric is critical to our efforts to produce a stable climate.
How are we doing?

Commercial & Industrial: Between 2005 and 2010 commercial and industrial energy use generally fell with a shift in the type of energy used.  Use of fuel oil declined by 10% from more than 35 million gallons to 31.5 million gallons.  Use of natural gas, on the other hand, increased by 6% from more than 195 million therms to more than 206 million therms.  Electricity use spiked in 2007 at 5.5 million kw/hour before falling in 2009 to 5.3 million kw/hour and jumping to 5.48 million kw/hour in 2010.  Total waste disposal energy use fell 10% from 634,000 tons in 2005 to about 571,000 tons in 2010.

Residential: In the City of Boston, residential use of fuel oil fell from more than 36 million gallons in 2005 to about 33 million gallons in 2010 while use of natural gas increased from about 55 million therms in 2005 to more than 81 million therms in 2010.  Total waste energy use declined from 253 million tons to 206 million tons.  However, residential electricity usage spiked in 2010 to more than 1.3 billion kw/hour after falling every year from 2005 to 2009 when energy use was 1.23 billion kw/hour.

Enlarge Commercial & Industrial Energy Use by Type Enlarge Residential Energy Use by Type
5.9.1 Green Space Distribution + collapse
Why is this important?

Green and open spaces provide residents and children the opportunity to experience the natural world in the heart of the city, engage in healthy outdoor recreation and exercie and contributes to the ecological integrity of an urban area.

How are we doing?

The Trust for Public Land,2009 City Park Facts reporting onthe state of park land and open space in the 77 most populous cities in the US found that Boston has 5,040 acres of public parkland and ranks 5th among high-density cities in parkland as a percent of total land area (16.3%), 2nd in acres per residents (8.3), 9th in playgrounds per 10,000 residents (3.6) and spent $101 per resident on Parks and Recreation in FY07.

The City of Boston contains 5,518 acres of open space, including 3,251 acres of parks, playgrounds, squares and outdoor malls, 240 acres of protected ‘urban wilds;’ and 62 acres of community gardens.  The Boston Parks and Recreation Department oversees 2,200 acres of parkland, including 215 parks and playgrounds, 65 squares, urban woodlands and street trees, three active cemeteries, 16 historic burying grounds, and two golf courses.  The balanced distribution of greenspace is a critical component of neighborhood quality.  Over the last 10 years, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department has implemented a $120 million rehabilitation of the city’s park system, targeting every tot lot and the majority of ball fields and courts. 

According to the City of Boston Parks Department, Central Boston and the South End have about 2 acres of green space per 1,000 people, the least in the city.  Fenway, Back Bay, and Dorchester have about twice that amount.  Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, Roslindale, and West Roxbury have the most open space per capital.

Enlarge Open Space per Capita and Child Population by Census Tract Open Space and Access for Children
5.10.1 Tree Cover and the Number of Bulbs and Flowers Planted + collapse
Why is this important?
Trees, especially in dense neighborhoods, give people a sense of place, comfort and beauty.  From the grays of winter and the changing greens of spring and summer, to the flaming reds and golds of fall, trees provide majesty and color to the city.  The cooling effect of trees can reduce energy consumption by up to 20% in the summer.  Tree and shrub barriers can reduce noise levels by approximately one-half (in the range of 8–12 decibels).  Wind speed, a problem in urban plazas, can be reduced by more than 30% by planting rows of trees.  Beautification of the public realm increases community pride and the pleasure of the changing seasons.  In addition to trees, flowers are universally appreciated as a source of beauty.
How are we doing?
Through June 2012, the City of Boston had planted 600 new trees, however a number of trees across the city had to be remove due to fungal infection, insects or severe weather.  In 2007 the City of Boston and Boston Natural Areas Network launched Grow Boston Greener with the goal of planting 100,000 new trees by 2020 and expanding Boston's tree canopy from 29% to 35% by 2030.
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5.11.1 Funding for the Environment and Open Space + collapse
Why is this important?

The state and the Boston region have many outstanding parklands - and maintaining them requires a regular infusion of funding. As in other areas, deferred maintenance often leads to higher costs, and in the case of parkland, the lack of maintenance also often leads to disuse for recreational purposes and a transition to unwelcome and unsafe use.

How are we doing?
In FY12, funding for the Massachusetts Department of Energy & Environmental Affairs fell to its lowest level a decade at $71.9 million after peaking at nearly $96 million in FY02.  Prior to the economic downturn, funding had rebounded to more than $86 million in FY08, but has steadily declined every year since.

Funding for Parks and Recreation statewide has also fallen steadily over the last few years, to $71.5 million in FY12 from a peak of $139 million in FY06.  However, funding in FY12 was higher than the low in FY05 of $71 million.

Enlarge Funding for the Department of Energy & Environmental Affairs Enlarge Funding for the Parks Department
10.2.1 Metro Boston's Transit Nodes + collapse
Why is this important?
A good regional transportation system offers a range of efficient and convenient modes of travel. It supports economic development, helps shape the use of land, and connects homes, jobs, recreation and services equitably while protecting environmental resources and promoting public health.  An integrated transportation system allows municipalities to preserve their unique features while connecting them to economic as well as recreational resources.
How are we doing?
Greater Boston's public transit system—the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA)—provides a variety of options for getting around the region, including:

  • Three rapid transit lines, the Blue, Red and Orange Lines, with a total of 38 miles of track and 58 stations
  • The Green Line’s four light-rail streetcar lines, operating over 25 miles of track with 57 surface stops and 13 stops at subway or elevated stations;
  • The Silver Line bus rapid transit line with service from Dudley Square to downtown and from South Station to the South Boston Waterfront and Logan Airport;
  • A commuter rail network of 11 rail lines operating on 375 route-miles with 125 stations reaching into 175 communities;
  • Some 159 local and express bus routes, five streetcar routes and four trackless trolley routes, both bus routes extending to Route 128 and beyond;
  • Paratransit service such as ‘The Ride’ for seniors and people with physical disabilities; and
  • A water transportation system providing service from Hingham, Hull, and Quincy to Boston’s Inner Harbor and between several Inner Harbor docks, including Logan Airport, Charlestown Navy Yard, Rowe’s Wharf, and Long Wharf.
Enlarge Metro Boston's Transit Routes
10.2.2 Distribution of Daily Trips + collapse
Why is this important?

The quality of life for people who live and work in Boston and the Metro region depends in large part on their ability to get from one place to another for increasingly diverse purposes.

How are we doing?

There is a strong relationship between annual vehicle miles traveled per household and the availability of other transportation options.  Greater Boston cities and towns with the lowest vehicle miles traveled rates, less than 4,000 per year, are also those with access to the commuter rail.  Some of these cities and towns are in the inner core with multiple modes of travel available, but this also holds true for municipalities outside of the 495 belt.
Enlarge Vehicle Miles Traveled per Household, Metro Boston Annual VMT and HH
10.4.2 Use of Low Emission Vehicles + collapse
Why is this important?

Vehicles are the number one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.  Most buses, trucks, and construction vehicles use diesel fuel, which produces particulates and nitrogen oxides.  Alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles contribute lower GHG emissions than traditional vehicles using gasoline and electric vehicles do not produce local emissions.  

How are we doing?

As of 2010 there were 71,106 alternative fuel, hybrid or electric vehicles registered in Massachusetts, with 4,855 registered within the city of Boston--the most in the state--followed by 1,739 in Newton, 1,584 in Cheshire, 1,414 in Canton and 1,027 in Worcester.    

Municipalities with the highest concentration of AFV's were Cheshire and Clarksburg--smaller communities in Western MA--with 45 per every 1,000 cars registered.  Within greater Boston, the highest concentrations were in Lincoln with 30 per 1,000, Westford with 26.7 per 1,000 and Lexington with 25.8 AFV's per 1,000 cars registered.  In Boston there were 7.9 AFV’s per 1,000 cars.

Enlarge Total Hybrid and Alternative Fuel Vehicles Registered Enlarge Hybrid and Alternative Fuel Vehicles Registered per 1,000
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