Please note: The data and analyses contained in this section are no longer being updated and are presented here solely as an archive of Boston Indicators’ work on this Indicators Framework between the years 2000 and 2015.


Environment and Energy

Goal: 5.1 Metro Boston's Competitive Edge in Environment and Energy





Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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.

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.

Goal: 5.2 Environmental Stewardship





The Ecological Footprint per Capita Consumption of Global Resources

The ecological footprint is the total area of the Earth’s surface required to produce the food, goods and resources consumed by one individual each year.  It captures the extent to which human consumption can be supported by the Earth’s capacity to regenerate natural resources.  To sustain adequate living conditions, consumption cannot threaten the renewal of natural systems and waste must be discharged within the limits of the Earth’s capacity to absorb it.  Individual lifestyle choices - housing and transportation, food, energy and water consumption - combine to create the ecological footprint.

Massachusetts’ energy consumption is increasing annually, despite slow population growth.  Yet, the Commonwealth is one of the more efficient consumers of energy among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  In 2007—the last year for which data are available—Massachusetts ranked 48th in per capita energy consumption, unchanged from 2004 and falling from 42nd in 2000.  US residents consumed, on average, more than 355 million btu per capita in 2007 up from less than 350 in 2003, Massachusetts residents consumed only 234 million btu per capita, down from 255 in 2004. California, which has been the US leader in energy efficiency and per capita energy use, now ranks just behind Massachusetts with New York and Rhode Island now the most energy efficient states.


Waste and recycling tonnage and rates

  • Total Trash & Waste Tonnage
  • Total Recycling Tonnage
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. 
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.

Goal: 5.3 Environmental Justice and Equity





Public Health Stresses on Children

  • Percent of Boston Teens Who Have
  • Ever Been Diagnosed with Asthma
    Percent Children with Elevated Lead Levels

Access to clean air and healthy homes are essential to nurturing healthy children with low rates of asthma and blood lead levels.  However, pollutants emitted by diesel buses and trains, automobiles, and trucks, as well as by certain businesses such as auto repair shops and hazardous waste-related enterprises, are often linked poor child health outcomes in many low-income communities and communities of color.

The percent of Boston's children with elevated blood lead levels fell to less than 1% in 2010, down dramatically from 13.5% in 1995.  However, the highest rates for children were in Allston/Brighton (1.5%), Mattapan (1.4%) and North Dorchester.

Child hospitalizations due to asthma fell slightly from 2008 to 2009--most recent year available--but with persistent racial/ethnic disparities.  Hospitalizations for all children ages two and under fell from 13.2 to 11.7 per 1,000 and for children ages three to five fell from 8.8 to 8.4 per 1,000.  However, among children two and under hospitalizations per 1,000 were much higher for African Americans (16.5) and Latinos (12.3) than among white (8.3) and Asian (4.0) children.  Similarly among three to five year olds, the rate per 1,000 was 13 among African Americans and 8.2 among Latinos compared to 5.4 among Asians and 2.7 among white children.

Environmental Justice Populations

All people have a right to be protected from environmental pollution and to live in and enjoy a clean and healthful environment. According to the Massachusetts Smart Growth / Smart Energy Toolkit, "Environmental Justice is the equal protection and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies and the equitable distribution of environmental benefits." Environmental Justice (EJ) Populations refer to residents in neighborhoods across the state with high minority, non-English speaking, low-income, and foreign-born populations. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs defines EJ populations as neighborhoods that meet one or more of the following criteria: median annual household income is at or below 65% of the statewide median income, 25% or more of the residents are a minority or more of the residents are foreign born; or 25% or more of the residents are lacking English proficiency.  Several studies show that lower-income and minority communities suffer from a disproportionately high share of environmental burdens and also often lack environmental assets in their neighborhoods. By highlighting areas prone to such discrimination, local and state governments can monitor whether they are serving EJ populations adequately.

Environmental Hazard Points per Square Mile

Environmental hazard points are the chemical, biological and physical places and opportunities for exposure to toxins, low air quality, polluted water and radioactivity. 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.

Goal: 5.4 Clean Energy and Climate Stability





Trends in Climate Change, Metro Boston and New England

  • Number of Days Above 90 Degrees, Low & High Emissions Scenario
  • Number of Days Above 90 Degrees, Low & High Emissions Scenario

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.

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.

Green Buildings and Transit

Green building incorporates design, construction and operating practices with a strong focus on reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the use of natural light and non-toxic renewable materials.  The growing number of green buildings has been driven in part by voluntary standards created by the US Green Building Council, which developed a series of green building rating systems under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.  The growing inventory of green buildings is a positive sign that new construction is being designed to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Boston ranked 7th among the 50 largest US cities in Green Buildings according to Sustain Lanes’ 2008 city rankings. In January 2007, Boston became the first major city in the US to require most new private development to meet standards for “green” or high performance buildings equivalent to those established by the US Green Building Council under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program and as of 2009, 53 buildings in Boston had attained LEED certification.   Among these LEED certified buildings, 25 achieved Silver Status (scoring 50+ points out of 110 on sustainability), 15 had achieved Gold Status (60+ points) and 3 had achieved Platinum Status (80+ points).  The number of building projects registered with LEED (but not yet certified) rose from 7 in November 2006 to 81 in November 2008. LEED-certified buildings in Boston rose from 9 in November 2006 to 21 in June 2008.

In 2009, the City of Boston announced a $100,000 award from the US Green Building Council and Adobe Systems to build “Green” schools throughout Boston, following the example of the Franklin D. Roosevelt K-8 School in Hyde Park which received LEED Gold status for the new annex building.


Residential & Commercial Energy Use by Type, Boston

  • Commercial & Industrial Energy Use by Type
  • Residential Energy Use by Type
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. 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.

Goal: 5.5 Productive and Efficient Use of Land




Smart Growth Measured by Trends in Development

  • 40R/40S Units
  • Land-Use Summary Statistics, Boston

According to the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, "Development consumes two acres of open space each hour in Massachusetts. About 88 percent of this land is going to new housing, and of this, 65 percent is for low-density residential development."  Massachusetts General Law 40R, was written to encourage Smart Growth zoning in Massachusetts that allow for higher density, transit-oriented development.

As of 2012, 30 cities and towns in Massachusetts had approved 40R Smart Growth Zoning Districts with 11,570 units permitted.  This is an increase from 16 40R districts and 9,800 units approved in 2007.  Boston has approved 578 new units under 40R which will be used to increase high density, transit oriented development.

In Boston more than 7,300 of the 31,600 acres are multi-family residential and an additional 4,500 are zoned as high density residential areas.  The third largest land use purpose is 3,400 acres for transportation.  Despite such high density development, Boston has a large area of open, natural spaces including more than 2,450 forrested acres, nearly 600 open space acres, 567 acres of sandy beach areas and 350 acres of saltwater wetland.


Housing Density and Services with 1/4 Mile of Transit Nodes

  • Population and Location of MBTA Stations

Transit-oriented development—or dense, comprehensive development with a mix of housing, retail and services around transit stations—has garnered attention among planners, environmentalists, and public health advocates.  These developments allow walking and bicycling within neighborhoods for healthier and less sedentary lifestyles, and they reduce auto dependency, which translates into lower consumption of fossil fuels, less air pollution, and lower spending on transportation.  The concept of transit-oriented development is not new to Boston, a city that created streetcar suburbs in the 19th century and still continues to function best along transit lines.

Almost 80% of jobs in Boston, 51% of Boston’s public schools and 56% of all Boston residents are located within a 10-minute walk of an MBTA commuter rail or subway station or a surface trolley stop.

An analysis of the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s development pipeline by Northeastern University’s Center for Urban and Regional Policy found that new “transit oriented” development was proposed or under construction in 15 of Boston’s 19 neighborhoods.  The 46 proposed projects located within ¼ mile of a transit or commuter rail station represent a pipeline of more than 9,000 housing units and 23 million square feet of development.

Concerned about traffic congestion, loss of open space and increases in air pollution, many cities and towns in Metro Boston are starting to promote “smart growth” and transit-oriented development.  Although the number of smart growth projects and the number of communities working to attract such development is on the rise, needed changes in zoning are still very slow.

Goal: 5.6 Clean Air





Changes in Air Quality Level of PM10 and PM2.5 Micron Particles in the Air

  • Number of Days with Poor Air Quality

Tiny particles or liquid droplets suspended in the air that can contain a variety of chemical components are termed Particulate Matter (PM). Some particles are directly emitted into the air and come from a variety of sources such as cars, trucks, buses, factories, construction sites, tilled fields, unpaved roads, stone crushing, and wood burning. Other particles are formed in the atmosphere by chemical reactions.

Particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter are termed PM2.5, and particles smaller than 10 microns are termed PM10.  PM10 particles are visible as smoke or dust and settle out relatively rapidly, while the tiniest particles can be suspended in the air for long periods of time and contribute to haze in the atmosphere.  They are also the most harmful to human health because they can penetrate deep into the lungs.  Virtually all particulate matter from mobile sources is PM2.5. The State Department of Environmental Protection monitors PM in Suffolk County, using four sites in Boston and one in Chelsea.

The 2008 annual mean for PM10 levels was 23—unchanged from 2006 and the lowest level recorded since 1994.  The annual mean for PM10 did not change much between 1994 and 2002; however, in 2003, the annual mean dropped 19% over the previous year and remained the same for 2004.

Monitoring of smaller particles, PM2.5, began in 1999 at the same locations.  The annual mean concentration continued to drop, reaching 11.3 in 2008, from the high of 16.6 in 2001.  Based on this monitoring data, the federal Environmental Protection Agency found that Boston currently complies with the air quality standard for fine particulates.  Although Boston has not been classified as a “nonattainment” area for fine particles, it will be important to continue monitoring and ensure that levels of these most harmful particulates remain at low levels.

Regional Ozone Smog

Ozone (O3) is created in the lower atmosphere by a chemical reaction between nitrous oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The reaction requires the presence of sunlight and generally occurs only in the summer months in the Boston region.  Regional ozone forms a brown haze, “smog,” and can cause breathing difficulties, especially for those who have respiratory problems. Repeated exposure to ozone pollution can cause permanent damage to the lungs. Even when ozone is present in low levels, inhaling it can trigger a variety of health problems, including chest pain, coughing, nausea, throat irritation and congestion.  It also can reduce lung capacity and worsen bronchitis, heart disease, emphysema and asthma. Ozone and its precursors (NOx and VOCs) can be transported thousands of miles in the atmosphere.  Emissions from New York, for example, can lead to ozone episodes in Boston and Cape Cod. The US EPA has both a one-hour standard and an eight-hour standard for ozone.  Suffolk County ozone concentration has continued to fall and in 2007 the 2nd Max 1 hour value was 0.088 parts per million while the 4th max 8 hour concentration was 0.072 parts per million—both the lowest readings since 2000.  The key readings for Suffolk County for both standards reached a new high in 2002, and subsequently declined.  The readings for 2006 were almost identical to those for 1994.


Low-Emission Vehicles

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

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. 
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

Goal: 5.7 Clean and Plentiful Water





Swimmable Days and Violations of Safe Swimming Standards in Boston's River and Harbor


Boston is surrounded by the fresh waters of the Charles, Neponset and Mystic Rivers and the marine waters of Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay.  Boston Harbor’s severe levels of pollution eventually resulted in a federal court case and the mandated "Boston Harbor Cleanup" - among the nation’s largest-ever wastewater infrastructure upgrade projects, taking nearly 20 years and $4 billion to complete.  Ensuring revival of the rivers and continued use of harbor resources will help round off that investment.

After the Environmental Protection Agency set a goal of a swimmable Charles River by 2005, clean-up efforts led to a dramatic increase in the number of days the Charles was safe for boating and swimming. The EPA’s annual grade for the Charles rose from D in 1995 to an all-time high of B++ in 2007 and then dropped back to B+ in 2008. The EPA began a similar program for the Mystic River in 2006 and its initial grade of D rose to C- in 2008.

Selected swimming beaches in Boston are tested by the Massachusetts (DPH) for enterococcus, a pathogen that is strongly correlated with swimming-associated disease and is now the required indicator organism for determining contamination at marine bathing beaches in Massachusetts.  In 2008, the exceedance rate for Boston beaches was 10.3%, the highest since 2005 but still lower than nearly 12% in 2001.  Among all of Boston Beaches, only 4 had an exceedance rate lower than 10%: Pleasure Bay (3.3%) City Point Beach (1.3%), Lovell’s Island (0%) and Spectacle Island (0%).  The highest rate of un-swimmable days was at Tenant, which exceeded contamination levels in nearly 20% of tests in 2008. But improvements are expected in the near future as a result of a recent lawsuit settlement under which the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has finalized plans to reduce “combined sewer overflows” affecting Dorchester Bay


Efficient and Sustainable Use of Fresh Water Supplies within Available Means

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority provides drinking water and sewer services to 2.5 million people and more than 5,500 large industrial users in Boston and 60 other eastern Massachusetts communities.  Prior to the 1990s, Boston and the other communities that rely on the MWRA’s Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs were “living beyond their means” by withdrawing more water than the “safe yield” of their water sources.  Demand on the system grew rapidly from the 1950s to the 1980s, in part due to the expansion of the system to include new suburban communities, and in part due to inefficiency caused by aging infrastructure and low water rates.  When the MWRA assumed control of the metropolitan water system from the MDC in 1984, the safe yield of 300 million gallons per day was being exceeded by more than 20 million gallons per day.  Forward-thinking policies and strategic investments in areas such as leak detection and repair and water conservation by the MWRA at the regional level, and by the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, led to dramatic decreases in water demand.

Demand on the MWRA system has remained below the safe yield of 300 million gallons per day (mgd), and has declined to low of  196.7 mgd in through October of 2009 — a decrease of about 145 mgd from the peak usage in 1980, despite continued growth in the system’s service area.

The rate of unaccounted-for water—water lost between the source and customers’ revenue meters due to leakage—decreased from more than 30% in 1980 to less than 15% in 2000.   In 2000, MAPC’s Regional Services Consortium project identified leakage of 524 gallons per minute from water systems. The repair of these leaks will produce a reduction in water demand for the North Coastal, Ipswich River and Parker River watersheds by 275 million gallons per year.

Sustaining the water efficiency achievements of Boston and the MWRA will require continued maintenance and upgrading of aging infrastructure.  Massachusetts’ new Water Policy, which sets a target of 65 gallons per person per day for residential water use in communities, provides an important regulatory framework to sustain and support water conservation efforts in Boston and statewide.

Goal: 5.8 Sustainable and Healthy Ecosystems





Acres of Protected and Restored Urban Wilds and Natural Areas, Boston

  • Urban Wilds


Boston, with its harbor, islands, rivers, ponds, estuaries, wetlands and parks provides a wide range of habitats for living creatures. The protection of these micro-environments that enable life to survive in an urban ecosystem is largely dependent on protecting the urban wilds and natural areas in the city from development pressures.

The City of Boston currently contains 36 ‘Urban Wilds’ sites with nearly 240 protected acres, according to the Boston Natural Areas Network—a complete list of sites is available through the City of Boston Urban Wilds Initiative.  The Department of Conservation and Recreation acquired 93.3 acres, Boston Parks Department 33 acres, Massachusetts Audubon Society 34 acres, and Trustees of Reservations 25 acres.  In total, since the Urban Wilds effort began in 1975, close to 831 acres have been protected in Boston, and about 605 remain.

The Urban Wilds protected areas include major riverfront and harbor front lands along Boston Harbor, Dorchester Bay, Neponset River, Mother Brook and Chelsea Creek (East Boston, Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park), as well as areas of salt marsh, riverbank and upland.  Many Urban Wilds were former industrial sites, despite their waterfront locations, and were contaminated.  Their protection by public park agencies has resulted in lands restored to natural conditions and safely accessible for recreation and the enjoyment of nature.  Inland, a significant corridor of woodlands in Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury has been protected, providing wildlife habitat and bird flyways.

In addition to acquisitions, the Boston Conservation Commission has accepted conservation restrictions for Urban Wilds sites that have been largely developed.  Although not necessarily large in acres, the conservation restrictions are important to preserve highly sensitive parts of sites and to buffer existing neighborhoods.


Biodiversity: Number and Volume of Bird Species

  •  Number and Volume of Bird Species
The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs describes biodiversity as the variety of life and its processes, which includes the diversity of living organisms, genetic differences among them, the communities and ecosystems in which they occur, and the ecological and evolutionary processes that keep them functioning, changing and adapting. Tracking and understanding the ecological relationships between bird behavior and use of habitat, natural landforms and human interaction helps to connect people to the natural world and develop support for protecting habitats in our communities.  Alterations or destruction of habitat can result in significant reduction in the diversity and numbers of birds.

According to the 2008 National Audubon Society Annual Christmas Bird Count, over 42,000 birds and 123 different species were spotted in Greater Boston in one day—a decline of more than 7,000 birds over 2006.  While species variation has remain fairly steady since 1990—reaching a high of 138 in 1999—the total bird population has fallen dramatically from a high of 237,800 in 1991.

Within the City of Boston—according to data gathered in 2002—on a single day at a single place, Boston Public School students observed 127 birds from 15 species—including four Kingbirds, six Mallard Ducks, 71 Canadian Geese, one American Crow, 10 House Sparrows, four Song Sparrows, four Rough-winged Swallows, one Spotted Sandpiper, one Baltimore Oriole, six Common Grackles, two Blue Jays, one Black-capped Chickadee, and three Rock Doves.

Goal: 5.9 Accessible Green and Recreational Spaces





Green Space Distribution

  •  Open Space per Capita and Child Population by Census Tract

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 exercise and contributes to the ecological integrity of an urban area.

The Trust for Public Land, 2009 City Park Facts reporting on the 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.


Access to and Public Use of Harborwalk and Harbor Islands National Park

  • Number of Visitors to the Boston Harbor National Park
The 1866 Massachusetts Public Waterfront Act established the public right of access to historic tidelands below the historic high-water mark. Because of inconsistent enforcement of this law, however, public access is restricted in places.  City and state government, and nonprofit harbor-related organizations committed to increasing public access, recognize that as Boston Harbor becomes cleaner, all residents and visitors, regardless of ability, age or background must be able to benefit from walking, swimming and picnicking along its shores.

The long undervalued Boston Harbor Islands, designated now as the Harbor Islands National Park, add new impetus to issues of access.  In the past, Spectacle Island was used as a garbage dump and Moon Island as a Police firing range. The beauty of these islands, their striking contrast with the city, and the recent Boston Harbor cleanup have earned the islands increased recognition.

The long-awaited 120-acre park on Spectacle Island opened to the public in the summer of 2006, with a new pier, marina, visitor center, two public beaches and five miles of walking trails.

In 2002, the last year for which data is available, more than 240,000 visits were made to the Boston Harbor Islands, an indication of the health and popularity of the new national park.  While the largest numbers of visitors come during the summer when ferries are in operation, sections of the national park connected to the mainland, such as Webb State Park, experience year-round use.  Deer Island, which houses the City’s sewer treatment facility, now has a park as well, and Thompson Island houses an Outward Bound facility that can provide a variety of programming to Boston’s youth.

Boston's Harbor Walk is a public walkway along the waterfront, with parks, public art, seating areas, cafes, exhibit areas, interpretive signage, water transportation facilities, and a wide range of other amenities. Nearly 38 miles of the 47-mile Harbor Walk are now completed, with the remainder slated to open in the next few years as waterfront development moves forward.  In recent years, new segments of Harbor Walk have been completed downtown near Lovejoy Wharf, Long Wharf and Lewis Wharf, in South Boston near the K Street electrical substation and the Institute of Contemporary Art, along Fort Point Channel near the InterContinental Hotel and Gillette, and in Dorchester near the Bayside Expo Center and Venezia Restaurant.

Goal: 5.10 Beautiful Walkable Communities





Tree Cover and the Number of Bulbs and Flowers Planted


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.

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.


Community Gardens in Boston Neighborhoods

Boston’s community gardens are an indicator of residents’ determination to maintain an active and productive relationship to open space even in the most crowded neighborhoods.  In some cases, residents grow food in the gardens.  For others, gardens provide opportunities to breathe fresher air and be free momentarily from everyday urban life.

Boston has nearly 200 school and community gardens spread throughout its neighborhoods, with the heaviest concentrations in Dorchester, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and the South End.  The Boston Natural Areas Network estimates that more than 10,000 individuals and families are involved in school and community gardening, many of them low-income.

An indicator of the success of community gardens is the number of gardens with well-functioning organizations, according to the Boston Natural Areas Network, which oversees many of the city’s gardens. Well-functioning organizations have a leadership team or multiple people sharing tasks, periodic meetings, and written rules that are distributed to all participants.  There are 64 gardens in Boston that meet these criteria, including 14 in Roxbury and 13 in Jamaica Plain. Other neighborhoods such as Mission Hill have just a single such garden.

Pedestrian and Bike Paths in Boston

Bike and pedestrian pathways make cities more walkable, promote physical activity, and link neighborhoods together.
The City of Boston and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council launched Boston’s Hubway Bike Share system in 2011, supported by MassDOT, the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Federal Transit Administration and New Balance Corporation. Starting with 600 bikes, about ten each at 61 rental bike stations, Hubway will expand to Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline.

Goal: 5.11 Sustained Public Support for Environment and Open Space





Funding for the Environment and Open Space

  • Funding for the Department of Energy & Environmental Affairs
  • Funding for the Parks Department


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.

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.