Category Archives: housing

A new ally in the fight against gentrification

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PODER mural, created in partnership with CiultureStrike. Photo credit: Galeria de la Raza

The fight against gentrification is never-ending; therefore, it takes a certain type of momentum to achieve groundbreaking changes. There are environmental justice (EJ) organizations working in various parts of the United States that have been able to achieve this momentum. Genea Foster, MCP’ 16 uses case studies of Boston, Oakland, Portland, Austin, San Francisco and Brooklyn to generate a deeper understanding of the success and impact of the anti-gentrification campaigns of environmental justice organizations. She has determined how community-led initiatives are making a difference and why they are taken seriously by developers and gentrifiers in their respective cities. Through coalition-building, partnerships, community engagement and cooperative economics, EJ organizations have been able to make progress.

Genea highlights a number of ways that planners can learn from these case studies to prevent gentrification in the cities where they work. Download her thesis to learn more about these innovative EJ organizations.

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The Power of Information: Unleashing Energy Consumption Data

community_mapEncouraging energy efficiency among residents and businesses is hard work, not least because of the absence of accessible and easily understandable information about energy consumption. Most people don’t understand everything on their energy bills, don’t know if they’re using more energy than they should, and have no way to compare their energy use to that of their neighbors. This information is often guarded closely by utilities, presenting energy efficiency advocates with a formidable barrier.

In her thesis, Alexis Howland (MCP ’13) sketches the possibilities afforded by better energy consumption data. She surveyed efforts across the country to share energy efficiency data. Alexis focuses on incorporating these data into mapping applications—which could lay bare the differences in energy consumption among homes and add valuable information to the housing market. These efforts could be combined to allow no-touch energy assessments that offer actionable suggestions for homeowners who want to improve their energy efficiency.

In a survey of five previous attempts at energy mapping, Alexis notes a common theme: the developer’s inability to access or make public energy consumption data at the household level. This, Alexis explains, is due to privacy concerns that have so far prevented such data from being used to its full potential.

Alexis explores ways of unleashing these data. Several cities—including Boston—have recently passed ordinances that require the disclosure of energy consumption data, and the federal government has offered a framework for voluntary energy data disclosure through the Green Button Initiative. While these efforts must overcome serious privacy concerns, they have the potential to make public vital information about the way people and buildings nationwide use energy. Read more about Alexis’ survey of the opportunities for and barriers to energy mapping projects in her thesis.

Bringing Power to the People: Community-Scale Energy Efficiency Improvements

5641953722_9267e3147d_bMultifamily building residents—renters in particular—often fall through the cracks of traditional energy efficiency offerings. Building residents rarely have the ability or long-term incentive to pay for energy upgrades in their homes, and building owners have little motivation to reduce energy costs borne by residents. Standard utility energy efficiency programs—which rely mainly on financial incentives to encourage participation—have had little impact in encouraging efficiency.

 

Last spring, a group of DUSP graduate students devised a new model for multifamily energy efficiency in a practicum course led by Professors Harvey Michaels and Larry Susskind. The students proposed a solution that was based in equal parts on the use of non-financial incentives to encourage participation through a engaged city-scale implementer and community-based social marketing techniques, and the better use of building and energy consumption data to identify and target areas for potential efficiency improvements. By orienting program offerings around the social networks of communities and leveraging the energy data sources available to implementers, this model could unlock energy efficiency savings that have previously been off-limits to program administrators.

 

As a result of this effort, NSTAR and the City of Cambridge are working with MIT to scope out a pilot energy efficiency program in Cambridge that takes into account the added complexity of the multifamily sector. Read the group’s report here.