Boston-grown Greens, Coming Right Up! Mayor Approves Commercial Farming in Boston

Jan 15, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

urban-agriculture-in-boston

A new zoning ordinance will soon bring urban farms to Boston – and fresh, local food to Boston’s neighborhoods.

Calling business-savvy green thumbs to Boston! Just before leaving office, former Mayor Menino approved a new Urban Agriculture Zoning Ordinance, known as Article 89, which allows urban farmers to grow food for commercial purposes in much of Boston—be it in soil, in water, on rooftops, or even in modified shipping containers!

The three-year effort to bring urban farming to Boston began in 2010 when a local business owner wanted to start a lettuce farm to provide his neighbors with fresh greens. Unfortunately, Boston’s local land use laws would not allow it. Wanting to help, former Mayor Menino and his Office of Food Initiatives launched a citywide Urban Agriculture Rezoning Initiative. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) convened a series of meetings of the Mayor’s Urban Agriculture Working Group, made up of farmers, farming advocates, agriculture experts, and neighborhood representatives. Former Mayor Menino signed Article 89 on December 20, 2013, bringing the law into effect immediately.

Article 89 sets new standards for a variety of urban agriculture activities in Boston. While most agricultural activities were not allowed prior to the new Article, now commercial-scale farms, up to one acre, are allowed in all districts. The changes also allow urban farmers to sell at farm stands on their property. Farm stands can also be set up where retail uses are already allowed, and elsewhere by special permit. Proposed large-scale farms must go through a review process to make sure they will be compatible with neighboring land uses.

Some residents expressed concern about food grown in contaminated urban soils. However, as a result of a careful public process, Boston has become a national leader in establishing a Soil Safety Protocol for urban farms. To ensure soil is safe for growing, farmers can either use imported soil and raised beds, or submit documentation showing that, based on an environmental site assessment, native soils pose no significant risk.

If you’re wondering whether this new ordinance will mean you’ll soon be hearing roosters cockle-doodle-doing outside your bedroom window, the answer is no. The backyard keeping of hens and bees was not part of these changes, and is still not allowed in most zoning districts. Where the keeping of hens and bees is allowed (and then only upon special review when certain conditions are met), Article 89 defines the size of beehives and coops, numbers of hens and hives, and other maintenance requirements. Residents who live where hens and bees are not allowed may work with their neighborhood associations to petition the BRA to allow them. Legalize Chickens in Boston is working with community members interested in pursuing this.

By addressing a wide range of urban agriculture activities, Article 89 will increase access to healthy food, promote community building, create business opportunities, and help form beautiful neighborhoods.

CLF is delighted with this development, and commends the BRA for listening closely to the urban farming community and responding to feedback in developing Article 89. The result is a robust, responsibly crafted Article that puts Boston in the lead on urban agriculture. So get excited, Boston localvores: beans grown in Bean Town are coming to a market near you!

 

Join us at the Boston Mayoral Candidate Forum on Transportation and Livable Communities

Sep 6, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

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Mayor Menino at the 2nd year launch of Hubway. Photo Credit: City of Boston.

In a major city like Boston, the mayor plays a pivotal role in advancing transportation innovation and improvements. After all, few things show off a city better (or worse) than its transportation systems. To help the public understand where Boston’s mayoral candidates stand on this key campaign issue, CLF is co-sponsoring a free forum on Transportation and Livable Communities on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 from 6pm to 8pm at the Boston Public Library.

During Mayor Thomas Menino’s twenty years in office, the City of Boston has advanced many transportation projects, including the modernization of the Blue Line, the rehabilitation of old and opening of new stations on the Fairmount Line, the launch of the Hubway bike share system, and the completion of the Big Dig. Around the country, Antonio Villaraigosa in Los Angeles, Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, and Michael Bloomberg in New York all have successfully put new transportation ideas, policies and investments at the center of their administrations.

For CLF and everyone who lives and/or works in Boston, it matters that the next mayor of Boston, whoever it is, understands the importance of its transportation systems to the city: the ability to walk and bike safely and easily, the need to assure that public transit is affordable and accessible to all, and the foresight to consider how good transportation planning can help the city reduce greenhouse gas emissions and manage through the challenges presented by a changing climate. With the right mayor, Boston can and will continue to lead in this area.

Four Corners/Geneva Avenue Station on Fairmount Line. Photo Credit: Patrick D. Rosso

Four Corners/Geneva Avenue Station on Fairmount Line. Photo Credit: Patrick D. Rosso, pdrosso @ flickr

The forum on Transportation and Livable Communities will give each of the candidates an opportunity to address the vital transportation issues impacting Boston’s communities. CLF is co-sponsoring the event with a group of non-profit organizations, planners, and advocates who have been working to make Boston, and other Massachusetts communities, more livable.  As a group, we have provided all of the candidates with extensive information on policies related to transportation and livable communities. Now, on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 from 6pm to 8pm,  you can learn how more about how each candidate will improve Boston’s streets and public transportation. The event is free and  open to the public and the media. Register here to get your free ticket. We hope to see you there.

Boston Green Mayoral Forum

Jun 10, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Shanice Wallace is a Posse Scholar working at CLF as a summer intern. 

As more people are aware and involved in addressing environmental issues, the fight for a greener Boston becomes a shared Bostonian concern. Mayor Menino soon will be leaving Boston after 20 years. More than my entire lifetime!  During that time, he has done a lot to turn Beantown into Greentown, as he likes to say. Now, Boston has the opportunity to build on existing programs to reduce our environmental impact and become a greener city. Boston’s next mayor will have the opportunity to lead the next phase of Boston’s environmental revolution. The new mayor must take this opportunity to improve our neighborhoods by addressing climate change, clean energy and the environment.

Please save the date and plan to join Conservation Law Foundation and other environmental, clean energy, sustainability and innovation leaders for a Boston Mayoral Candidates Forum on Energy, the Environment and the Innovation Economy on July 9th at 12 pm at Suffolk University Law School. At this forum, the mayoral candidates will be given a chance explore a variety of topics related to community, development, jobs, sustainability, and livability in our city.

 

 

Community Process for Urban Agriculture Rezoning in Boston Begins

Jun 3, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Urban agriculture is taking off in Boston, from neighborhood gardens and markets to City Hall. Since January 2012, staff from Boston Mayor Menino’s office, along with a number of farming advocates, urban agriculture experts, and neighborhood representatives have met monthly to draft a new section of the Boston Zoning Code, Article 89.  Article 89 addresses the growing interest in urban agriculture – and specifically commercial urban agriculture – by expanding opportunities and reducing local regulatory barriers in Boston.

A comprehensive draft of the proposed rezoning has been completed, and Article 89 is now available for review.  The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) has arranged a series of neighborhood meetings in the city to discuss the draft Article.  A list of neighborhood meeting times and dates can be found here.  The first meeting is tonight at Suffolk Law School  (120 Tremont Street, Boston) from 6-8 PM.  Please join CLF in coming to this meeting, or another meeting in your neighborhood, to show your support for urban agriculture in Boston!

Urban agriculture increases access to affordable, healthy food, builds community connections, and fortifies our ties to the local environment.  At CLF, we are excited about the opportunity to help improve urban agriculture in the city of Boston, and thus support moving Article 89 forward.  We do have some concerns with specific provisions in the Article and appreciate the opportunity to acknowledge these concerns at neighborhood meetings.  We will post more regarding Article 89 here, including more detail on our concerns, as the summer community process moves forward – we encourage you to check back here for more information in the coming months.

Air Quality Alerts; What You Can Do About Them

May 31, 2013 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Mindy McAdams, Flickr

Kids playing in Boston’s Christian Science Plaza Fountain, by Mindy McAdams on Flickr

The heat is here!

Even though it’s technically still spring until late June, it feels as though summer has already come to stay in southern New England. While we New Englanders pride ourselves on being able to handle all kinds of weather, the health risks posed by poor air quality shouldn’t be ignored.

On a hot summer day, I know I make sure to check the weather in the morning before leaving to see how hot it might get and if there’s a chance of rain. Weather reports and weather websites are good at giving us lots of data about the day’s weather in general (hourly temperatures, chance of rain, and radar maps tracking storms), but don’t always give a detailed explanation when there’s an air quality alert (like there is this weekend).

What does an Air Quality Alert really mean?

The Air Quality Index combines measurements of ground level ozone and particulate matter to determine when levels of those pollutants might be harmful to humans.

Ground level ozone forms when pollution from cars, construction equipment, factories, and power plants containing oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic chemicals mix in sunlight. While lots of ground level ozone is formed in urban areas on hot days, it can also be blown over long distances by wind. Particulate matter is just what it sounds like, particles from construction dust and pollen down to heavy metals and toxic pollutants. Both ground level ozone and particulate matter can be inhaled and cause serious respiratory problems. Southern New England and the mid-Atlantic seaboard are at special risk for ground level ozone and particulate pollution due to the combination of big cities and winds blowing east.

Ground level ozone and particulate matter at levels that commonly occur here in the summer can cause some very unpleasant health problems for even healthy adults (coughing and wheezing isn’t a lot of fun), but can be dangerous and even life-threatening for kids with asthma or other breathing problems, adults with chronic conditions, and the elderly. And some studies suggest that ground-level ozone can actually cause asthma and breathing problems in kids. Adults at risk and parents of kids at risk probably know more about all of this than the average person, but hearing that there’s an Air Quality Alert on the weather can still leave anyone with a lot of questions.

As you can see from the AQI scale, a score of 50 would be labeled “good” and 51 would be “moderate,” so more precise data is essential. That information isn’t always available on a weather report, which is where the EnviroFlash website comes in. They plot the hourly Air Quality Index measurements on maps, so you can check out the forecast and close to real-time information about local air quality:

EnviroFlash this morning

What can I do about bad air quality in the summer?

While there are of course steps that people at risk from elevated ground level ozone and particulate levels can take to protect themselves from dangerous breathing events, the good news is that there are simple and very important things we can all do to help prevent elevated air quality:

  • Prevent your car from contributing to vehicle emissions: try to limit driving trips and take public transportation if possible.
  • Reduce the amount of electricity that your household uses, keeping the worst-emitting fossil fuel fired power plants from being pressed into service: Keep your air conditioner a few degrees higher, and make sure to turn lights and electronics off when you’re not using them.

 

 

Earth Day: An Opportunity to Pause and Heal

Apr 22, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Spring in Massachusetts

Earth Day, which coincides with the blossoming of Spring across New England, is an opportunity for us to heal.  Image: timsackton @ flickr

In the Boston area we are grieving, and we are rattled. The shocking events of last week have taken their toll on all of us. They have been devastating for the families and friends of those killed and injured.  We are relieved and grateful, but underneath we are in some pain. We all need to heal.

Today is Earth Day – a day to appreciate the marvelous planet that sustains us. In some years, my attention on Earth Day has focused on what our planet needs from us – in the form of activism, problem-solving, and protection. In fact, that’s my focus almost every day.

But this Earth Day, this year, I for one will focus on what the Earth does for us – emotionally – because we in the Boston area need it badly. In New England, Earth Day coincides with the full blossoming of Spring – the extraordinary annual resurgence of the irrepressible and wonderful life force embedded in our world. Trees, shrubs and plants come into full bloom, songbirds trill magically, and animals of many species respond to the call. If we stop and look, it amazes and rejuvenates us. If we pause and touch, breathe in the wonderful earthy smells of Spring, and deeply appreciate our planet, it heals us.

Today, in the greater Boston area – and across New England – I highly recommend we all stop, look, touch, smell and appreciate the remarkable planet that is our home. It’s a very natural and easy thing to do. It will help us heal.

And we all need to be healed, and to be strong, to meet the challenges – all of the challenges – that we face. And we shall meet them. Count on it. Just like Spring.

Building Smart(er) in Boston

Mar 8, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

In 1998 and 1999 CLF played a key role in a coalition that stopped a proposed development that would have placed a large tower on top of the Massachusetts Turnpike.  That proposal was not coordinated at all with larger plans for building on “air rights” over the MassPike (as it is known) and threatened to inflict major cost on the state transportation agencies due to the cost of building a deck over the highway large and strong enough to support a tower – and concerns about the stress this major new development would place on the transit facilities (the buses and subway) serving the area.

The project inspired significant opposition from residents of the Back Bay and Fenway neighborhoods for a wide variety of reasons.

One result of the controversy around that, and other air rights project and development in those neighborhoods was a massive stakeholder process to develop a “Civic Vision” for development over the MassPike that literally bridged a chasm between neighborhoods in a way that strengthened and improved existing neighborhoods.

CLF was deeply engaged in that stakeholder process, and the closely related environmental review that created that “Civic Vision” and now, years later, that effort seems to be bearing fruit.  A proposal for that same area has been preliminarily accepted by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation as detailed in this short Boston.com blog post and a presentation by the developers.  The proposal would place the actual tower on solid ground away from the Turnpike and put a low-rise commercial building over the MassPike itself.  Still to be dealt with is the crucial question of how the development will enhance the subway and bus infrastructure on and serving the site.  Nearby, the “Fenway Center” air rights proposal that will be built adjacent to Fenway Park is addressing this issue by rebuilding the Yawkey Station commuter rail facility.  Will the Boylston Street entrance to the Hynes station (which is only open for special events as shown in this video) be renovated and opened?  Will the development help pay for signal improvements that improve the Green Line that serves that station? The fact that the designated developers have a good track record of working with the local community suggests that dialogue around such ideas is very possible.  And the fact that the project earns a cautious positive comment from Marty Walz, who led the citizen opposition to the prior project, in the Boston Globe is encouraging.

Building a thriving future with sharply reduced greenhouse gas emissions and strong communities will require investments in real urban development, like the project that has been proposed for this critical Boston crossroads – and we owe it to our future and all the people (even the occasional Yankee fan who finds themselves in enemy territory) who visit, live in and work in Boston to get this one right.

The Battle to Save the Climate Continues: The Northeastern States Reboot and Improve “RGGI”

Feb 7, 2013 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

I was on television the other night talking about the impact of sea level rise and storms on Boston and how the impacts of global warming mean that coastal cities like Boston face very real threats. During that interview, I found myself comparing the process of adapting to a changed climate to finding out the house is on fire and grabbing the cat and the kids and getting out – steps that should be followed by calling the Fire Department in order to save the rest of the house and neighborhood.

The climate equivalent of calling the Fire Department is reducing carbon emissions to head off even worse global warming and the wide gamut of effects that we are feeling and will feel from that phenomenon. On the national level, our problem is that Congress is not sure what kind of Fire Department we should have – and in fact a powerful contingent of folks in Congress refuse to believe in the existence of fire.

But here in the upper right hand corner of the U.S., the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, our state governments have been rolling the big red truck out of the garage and taking action to address the greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, a key source of this pollution causing global warming, by capping carbon emissions through the program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (“RGGI”).

Today, February 7, those states (including the New England states of Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut) announced an agreement  to strengthen that cap on carbon  from 165 million tons down to 91 million tons (2012 levels).

This step, along with associated refinements to the RGGI program, is an important step toward meeting the climate imperative of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but we temper our applause by clearly noting that more sweeping action will be needed to get there. Listen to the wise words of Jonathan Peress, my colleague and our lead advocate on RGGI from our official release marking this announcement:

“This is a very meaningful step in the evolution of RGGI and a powerful example of how markets can drive solutions to climate change,” said N. Jonathan Peress, VP and director of CLF’s Clean Energy and Climate Change program. “Over the past four years, the RGGI program has proven that putting a price on carbon emissions and using the revenues to expand energy efficiency and clean energy as part of our mix is a formula that works. The program refinements announced today will further accelerate the ongoing transition away from dirty and inefficient fossil fuel power plants to meet our energy needs. Once again, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states have demonstrated a path forward for others areas of the country.”

RGGI, the nation’s first market-based cap and trade program requires power plants to hold permits, known as “allowances,” for each ton of CO2 they release into the atmosphere. Revenue from the sale of these allowances is reinvested in energy efficiency programs that reduce costs for businesses and make the states more competitive.

Peress continued, “We applaud the New England states for supporting and strengthening RGGI as an important tool in their toolkits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and advancing a clean energy economy. The RGGI program has proven that carbon cap-and-trade programs can reduce carbon pollution while contributing to economic growth and prosperity. However, state leaders still have much to do to meet the emissions reductions levels dictated by science and our understanding of what it will take for our region to thrive in the face of climate change. Today’s action to strengthen the regional electric power plant cap-and-trade program is a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.”

The new cap level locks in emission reductions achieved to date, and continues to drive additional reductions through 2020. Since it was launched in 2009, economic experts say the increased energy efficiency that RGGI is driving has been generating greater rates of economic growth in each participating state.

During the years (nearly a decade) since RGGI was first proposed, much has changed. Emissions have continued and we have moved closer and closer to climate disaster, Congress has considered and failed to pass (despite success in one chamber) a comprehensive climate bill, international negotiations on a climate treaty have faltered. But it hasn’t been all bad news: states, including RGGI states like Massachusetts and Connecticut, have adopted legal requirements for climate action and California has moved forward with its own similar program.

When we began the RGGI adventure, we knew that while action would be necessary on the national and global level, the states and regions were the best forum to really take action immediately and effectively. That strategy has paid off in many ways, including the pivotal Supreme Court case brought by Massachusetts and allied states, with support from a host of environmental groups including CLF, that continues to propel forward action by EPA. Now, this decision by the states to turn RGGI up a notch in order to protect the climate and build clean energy and efficiency tells us that this is still the path to travel.

Preparing for the Rising Tide – Across New England

Feb 5, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Boston Harbor Association has a powerful message about the very real threat of sea level rise driven by global warming.  Their report, “Preparing for the Rising Tide”, is a dramatic wake-up call about the fundamental threat to the historic and economic heart of Boston.

The report starts with very solid science that shows how the homes, businesses and cultural institutions (like the New England Aquarium) that sit on the waterfront are now on the edge of entering, and have in some cases already entered, a very real danger zone.  A zone where the flooding and catastrophic damage that Hurricane Sandy brought to the New York region would tear across our coastline – with the prospect of worse to come.  Indeed, had Sandy hit only 5 ½ hours earlier than it did, when tides were high, the floodwaters would have reached Boston City Hall, nearly ½ mile inland from the City’s waterfront. In other words, Boston got lucky compared to New York City and other communities that were brutally whacked by the storm.  And this near miss begs the question:  do we really want to leave the vitality of our coastal communities to chance?

The report provides a few key lessons:

  • Many vulnerable places, like the entrance to the UMass Boston campus, key MBTA stations like the one at the New England Aquarium and sections of waterfront buildings like the Long Wharf Marriott are in very real danger, today, from the severe storms that are becoming an unfortunate, and all too frequent, visitors to the Northeast.
  • Indeed, some of these vulnerable places would have suffered very real and painful damage if Sandy had slightly changed course and struck Boston instead of New York, or if Sandy had arrived just a few hours earlier.
  • As climate change continues to worsen due to the build-up of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, a build-up that grows a little bit every day, the likelihood of a severe flooding event increases. In a very real way the march of time is our enemy here – with each passing year, as we continue to pump enormous quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the chance of a catastrophic flooding event grows.
  • Addressing this fundamental problem will require an integrated approach that reaches across all aspects of society, the economy and government – fundamentally transforming the way we plan, use our land and water resources, build, travel, manage our buildings and use energy – in order to make our communities more resilient and able to handle inundation and other impacts from the changing climate but also to reduce the emissions that are causing the problem in the first place.

In other words, while it remains critically important to tackle the root causes of climate change by reducing energy waste and cleaning up our energy supply, that’s not enough any longer. The emissions we produce today from driving our cars and heating and lighting our buildings will produce effects that are beginning to materialize now – as with Superstorm Sandy – and that will present ever more daunting challenges for future generations. We therefore need to brace for impacts that already have been set in motion. And we must adapt a broad range of infrastructure and institutions to make our communities more resilient to those impacts.

Conservation Law Foundation, as a group with roots in Boston and nearly 50 years of work here, applauds the work of the Boston Harbor Association in preparing and releasing this Report.  As a regional organization that works across New England, we recognize that the Report reflects an absolutely vital case study that provides guidance for planning and preparations in Massachusetts’ largest city, while also providing an example of the kind of sober analysis and planning that needs to unfold from Connecticut’s Long Island Sound coastline to the frigid waters of Downeast Maine.

This Report is a reminder that we must act now to protect our communities from the harm that has already been done – and we need to act on emissions reductions to prevent even worse and more catastrophic harm beyond the massive flooding outlined in TBHA’s chilling maps.   This is the mandate of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act that has been on the Commonwealth’s books since 2008. Having had the foresight to enact this law the question becomes whether we here in Massachusetts will have the courage to truly implement it.  TBHA’s Report, which looks at both the impacts that are unavoidable and the even worse impacts if massive greenhouse gas emissions continue, provides a compelling reminder of the  consequences of inaction.

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