Blog Archives

Shifting from litigation to innovation in energy policy


David Musselman (SM’ 17) came to DUSP after a 30 year career as an attorney in the energy and environmental services industries, including two stints as a general counsel. In his words “I was ready to do something different, and MIT offered me the opportunity to explore a range of issues affecting communities including climate change, economic development and transportation issues.”

A month ago, Musselman started a new position as Director of the Municipal Energy Unit at the City of Boston. This new role which allows him to blend his years of experience with the new skills and ideas he learned at MIT.

Boston has committed to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030. One key aspect of this goal is reducing energy use from the City’s buildings – it owns over 300 buildings of a wide range of sizes, ages and uses including schools, libraries, police and fire stations, community centers. One of Musselman’s key responsibilities is overseeing a multi-department effort to reduce energy use.

He is leading a pilot program designed to identify energy conservation measures (ECM) and the expected savings. The savings will be used to finance the implementation of the ECMs. Working with an energy services contractor to conduct full audits of 38 buildings, Musselman and team will be able to identify potential ECMs and projected savings.

Utilizing this list, the City will select the measures and a energy services company will install them at a guaranteed price and will guarantee the savings. Based upon the guaranteed savings, the City will finance the work and repay the loans with the energy savings. The expectation is that once the pilot program is complete, there will be additional phases to address more buildings for the City, which will help it achieve its carbon reduction footprint goal.

Image credit: MIT Sustainable Design Lab via Boston Planning and Development Agency



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.

No Idling: Parking Policy in Growing Cities

ImageThere are few urban issues that touch as many nerves as parking, which resides in the often uncomfortable overlap of transportation, environmental protection, land use, and economic growth. To determine how much parking cities should have—and where that parking should be—a wide variety of stakeholder need to interact in a complex political process. Debates over parking policy, it turns out, are rarely just about parking.

In her thesis, Cara Ferrentino (MCP ’13) took a close look at the formation of parking policy in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She shows how three distinct groups—the “growth coalition”, “limited growth” advocates, and “smart growth” bureaucrats—have nudged the city into adopting and reforming policies regarding parking supply.

Cambridge was forced to confront parking in the 1970s, when EPA regulations enforced a mandatory parking freeze on the city’s non-residential parking supply to ensure compliance with the Clean Air Act. But, driven by concerns over the freeze’s impact on Cambridge’s commercial growth, the city lifted the freeze in 1997 and adopted instead a variety of demand-side approaches to managing parking supply. Today, Cambridge uses a number of incentives to encourage the use of alternative modes of transportation. These are often implemented in cooperation with the city’s major employers.

Cara evaluates the success of these efforts and finds that, while many employers have taken steps to encourage alternative transportation, the city nonetheless builds more non-residential parking than it uses. She notes that the city will need to rethink both the supply side and the demand side of parking policy in the near future if it is going to provide just the right amount of parking in all the right places. Read more about the past, present, and future of parking policy in Cambridge in Cara’s thesis.

So what is a “smart city”, anyway?

ImageThe planning and tech worlds alike have taken up the mandate to build “smarter” cities. However, there seems to be a wide array of definitions regarding what makes a city smart. When we talk about smarter cities, what are we talking about?

In his thesis, Tuan-Yee Ching (MCP ’13) provides a framework to consider the different ways that cities view themselves—and their initiatives—as “smart.” In a six-city study that includes interviews with officials in Boston, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Singapore, and Rio de Janeiro, Tuan-Yee discovered four different ways that cities consider themselves to be smart.

A city may call itself smart because it adopts new technologies and adapts itself to their use, as with Rio’s deployment of a suite of advanced weather sensors to better track and respond to local weather impacts. A city may also be smart for adopting new collaborative processes to work with stakeholder communities in innovative new areas, like San Francisco’s “Unhackathon” that crowd-sourced ideas to optimize taxi service with technological improvements. Cities may be smart because of a commitment to learning and adaption informed by lessons from other cities and the use of performance metrics, as in Boston’s participation in the G7 network of American cities that offers a forum for idea-sharing between municipal Chief Information Officers. Or cities may call themselves smart because they make investments in the technology sector that promise future returns, as with Singapore’s “Living Lab” fund, which offers public sector support for ventures in clean energy, urban mobility, IT, and public safety.

Tuan discusses the implications for these four very different notions of what a smart city really is, and he provides a series of recommendations for policymakers to keep in mind as they try to make their cities smarter—whatever that means to them. Read more in his thesis.

Taking a Second Look at Environmental Justice

This week we highlight Isabelle Anguelovski’s 2011 PhD dissertation, which seeks to make a unique contribution to the field of environmental justice by presenting the holistic environmental revitalization of three marginalized neighborhoods across contexts of urbanization and political systems in Boston, Barcelona, and Havana. Isabelle develops a new framework for understanding urban environmental justice and for planning just and resilient cities.

Callejón de Hamel, Cayo Hueso, Havana.

As local activists repair community spaces, build new parks and playgrounds, and develop urban farms and gardens, they address grief, fear of erasure, and suffering in a neighborhood that they may have previously considered as a war zone and destroyed place. Environmental projects are a means for nurturing the community and building a sense of rootedness and home. They create safe havens and refuges for residents. They also offer a strong cathartic and soothing effect away from the pressures of city relations and processes of urban change, while bolstering residents’ ability to deal with negative dynamics. Eventually, local EJ activism reshapes place and community and constitutes the occasion to question, realign, and recreate (positive) local identities. In other words, Isabelle argues that both physical and psychological dimensions of environmental health must be taken into consideration to rebuild historically distressed and degraded urban communities.

Check out the full dissertation and share your thoughts on this topic in the EPP Facebook Group!