The role of Massachusetts in making a case for the adoption of a nationwide carbon tax policy


Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) passed in 2008 committed the state to reducing carbon emissions 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Progress towards meeting these targets has been uneven, especially when it comes to transportation improvements and land use policy. This is especially worrisome given that transportation emissions are likely to rise over the next few years. One possible solution, supported by much of the environmental community, is the adoption of a revenue-neutral carbon tax or carbon fee. This would levy an additional fee on fossil fuel consumption, but distribute the revenue back to the state’s residents instead of adding it to the state budget. MCP 15 Elizabeth argues that this would be a mistake. She draws from a spatial analysis of passenger vehicle driving patterns in Massachusetts, a case study of British Columbia’s successful revenue-neutral carbon tax, and analysis of the current political landscape in Massachusetts to make her case. What are the flaws in this potential strategy? How do the state’s efforts relate to nationwide efforts to adopt a carbon tax? You can find the answers to these questions and more by downloading Elizabeth’s thesis in the following link:


The power dynamics behind mitigation and adaptation in Somerville, MA


The impacts of climate change are driving cities to adopt both preventive and reactive measures. With increasingly constrained resources, cities seem to be pushed in two different directions. MCP 15, Mia Goldwasser argues that integrating both preventive (mitigation) and reactive (adaptation) measures is necessary to achieve the most important political, community, and sustainability goals. Mia uses the case of Somerville, MA’s experience — developing their first climate change plan – to substantiate her premise. She developed recommendations for Somerville based on what other cities’ have done. What does it takes for such integration to succeed? To read more about this you can access Mia’s thesis in the following link:

Assessing Cal-Adapt, California’s climate adaptation tool


In light of the different kinds of impacts that climate change might cause, it is imperative not only to learn about local risks but also to think about how to respond effectively to climate-induced changes. In the last few years, there have been many tools created to generate climate change forecasts and provide guidance to communities trying to understand their vulnerabilities. One of these tools is Cal-Adapt, produced by the State of California. MCP student Melissa Deas examines both the practicality and value of this tool for communities in California. She specifically explores whether the information provided by Cal-Adapt is helping communities increase their resilience. Melissa assesses the collaboration that brought together decision-makers, stakeholders and scientists. She concludes that collaborations like this can be a powerful way to create legitimacy for climate action. To learn whether Cal-Adapt is making a difference in the state of California, see the following link:

Civic spaces and brownfield redevelopment, a case study of the Social Innovation project in Somerville, MA

art_culture_scribed_imageFormer brownfield sites offer opportunities for economic growth. How can industrial cities dealing with legacy of contained areas promote neighborhood-scale arts-oriented development? Can such sites benefit from policy integration? MCP Allegra Fonda-Bonardi did a yearlong study of the ARTFarm for Social Innovation in Somerville; Massachusetts to better understand how one city tried to find the right balance between environmental clean-up, real estate reinvestment and neighborhood control of the development process. She starts of with the premise that integrating city-wide environmental, social, and economic sustainability is possible, and that civic spaces that aim to meet multiple objectives are more likely to succeed than those that don’t. Allegra also discusses in her thesis the importance of demanding accountability from developers who offer to fund remediation, to ensure that a portion of the remediated land is used to meet neighborhood priorities. Did the ArtFarm create a precedent? You can find the answer to this question and more in Allegra’s thesis, here.

How can private interests as well as federal and local governments interact to promote climate change adaptation?


Many coastal and riverine communities in the United States face serious flooding risks from sea level rise and increased frequency of severe storms. From a municipal perspective, planners and elected officials must decide what tools they will use to help private property owners adapt to climate change impacts. In her thesis, Julie Curti (MCP ’15) evaluates how two communities in Rhode Island, Cranston and Westerly, have utilized buyback and elevation programs to adapt to future flooding risks.

Julie was especially interested in how federal and local governments interact, planners prioritize and fund projects, and equity considerations are incorporated into local-level decisions. While exploring these questions, she identified the danger of merging hazard mitigation programs with climate change adaptation efforts. Julie argues for an approach to adaptation planning that balances justice-oriented distributional and procedural equity at the local level. She also suggests ways in which state and federal agencies can facilitate stronger adaptation planning at the local level. To read more about Julie’s observations, analysis, and findings, click here.

Female Entrepreneurs, the Building Block of a New Economy?


In her 2015 thesis, MCP Ellen Chen, studied how female “social entrepreneurs” have spurred micro-level reforms, and how their efforts have fueled broader institutional changes in Malaysia. These innovators are working on topics ranging from transportation safety to sex education. Most have left lucrative professional careers to pursue causes that are important to them, either as organizers or volunteers. From what Ellen was able to document, policy changes at the national or regional level are not enough. Widespread action by risk-takers on the ground is essential to realize greater sustainability. On the other hand, fighting for the rights of disadvantaged groups or using the media to lift up voices for change are also important to achieving sustainable development.

Ellen investigated the proposition offered by political economists that nations can grow their economy more rapidly if they are willing to break with past institutional patterns. Ellen’s research suggests that this has been difficult to do in Malaysia, especially with regards to women’s roles. The state-influenced system of education continues to promote Islam’s gender-specific norms of virtuous behavior. While Malaysia has embarked on an aggressive effort to promote economic growth and launched multiple programs to encourage female entrepreneurship, there is still a prominent cultural aversion to risk-taking. Ellen’s thesis consists of both a traditional written portion, available here, and a video presentation, viewable here.


Short term gains, but long term inefficiencies? A case study of smart thermostats in residential buildings.


Smart technologies, such as smart thermostats, appear to offer a cost-effective approach to transitioning to a cleaner electricity grid. That is to say, they can balance real-time supply and demand for electricity, making it easier to integrate intermittent renewable energy sources into the grid. Brian Bowen (MCP’ 15) offers a case study of Austin Energy’s demand-response thermostat and their Wi-Fi connected smart thermostats. He analyzed the ability of these thermostats to reduce energy consumption during the summer of 2013. While he affirms the success of smart thermostats during peak demand, he also lays out a convincing case for the limited long-term energy efficiency potential of smart thermostats. To read more about Brain’s analysis and findings, please read his thesis here.

How can we improve the results of major public transit investments?


Washington D.C.’s 2014 Metrorail expansion runs, on elevated track lines, through the sprawling and auto-oriented Tysons Corner. Originally conceived as a means of transforming Tysons Corner into a true urban downtown with high walk-ability, the Silver Line’s expansion became mired in a fight over whether to go underground or above ground. In her 2015 thesis, Katie Blizzard (MCP ’15) examines the history of this debate and how the public controversy led to a suboptimal. She presents strong evidence supporting a conclusion that flawed federal funding criteria, the costs associated with high-level political disagreements and the constraints imposed by uncompetitive contracting were all to blame. To read more of Katie’s analysis and conclusions, click here.

Urban Agriculture Contributes to Sustainable Development of Cities: How do we make it permanent?


In the 21st century cities have increasingly adopted sustainability as a guiding principal, offering a window of opportunity for the incorporation of urban agriculture into city land use planning efforts. In addition, the engagement of commercial urban farms with local economies has allowed urban agriculture to enter the realm of economic development. Despite these advancements, many still frame their understanding of urban agriculture as interim land use while waiting for appropriate real estate development to happen. In his 2014 thesis, Andrew Cook (MCP ’14) argues the sustainable development characteristics of urban agriculture can only be accessed by treating it as permanent rather than a temporary land use.


To illustrate his argument, Andrew draws on a case study of Baltimore City, specifically the temporary use on city-owned land programs: Adopt-A-Lot and Homegrown Baltimore Land Lease Initiative. Andrew traced the historical relationship of urban agriculture to city development, Baltimore’s shrinking population, Baltimore’s policy environment as well as the histories of each program. He found that Baltimore’s view that urban agriculture runs counter to the economic growth objectives of a city, has limited the sustainability, economic, environmental and social benefits of urban agriculture projects. Through his evaluation of several urban commercial farms, community farms and demonstration farms, Andrew provides an alternate view, showing how urban agriculture can drive rather than hindering economic development. He offers a series of recommendations that woucl allow cities to realize the maximum benefit of urban agriculture. To learn more, read Andrew’s full thesis here.

How can we do a better job of promoting investment in green infrastructure?

Image Source: EPA (

Image Source: EPA (

A Methodology for Greater Impact of Green Infrastructure Projects

The planning community has increasingly recognized green infrastructure as the most effective approach for cities to manage the environmental impacts of stormwater runoff, a major sources of contamination to urban waterways. Despite this recognition, green infrastructure has not yet achieved the desired scale of implementation, in part, because implementation produces highly variable results. However, green infrastructure pilot studies, called ‘demonstration projects,’ have been conducted throughout the United States with encouraging results.

In his thesis, Alex Marks (MCP ’15), uses the case of Boston to explore how demonstration projects can further green infrastructure implementation. Alex identifies four major objectives of case studies: (1) testing the physical performance of green infrastructure for wider use, (2) fostering interdepartmental learning to construct and maintain green infrastructure projects, (3) cultivating public awareness and support for green infrastructure, and (4) achieving regulatory compliance. If demonstration projects are designed to reflect these four objectives, they can reduce the hazards of stormwater runoff. Alex constructs a recommended demonstration project methodology to assist city planners in formulating green infrastructure initiatives. Green infrastructure can contribute to greater equity in the allocation of stormwater discharge permits. To read more, see Alex’s thesis, here.