Boston's planned community to be lab for sustainable cities

Boston's planned community to be lab for sustainable cities

Graphic courtesy of LStar Ventures

An abandoned naval air station south of Boston is the site of an experiment in how to build the sustainable cities of the future. Known as Union Point, it is a 1,400-acre parcel of land that overlaps three nearby towns. 

LStar Ventures is the developer, creating a new city from the ground up with help from global engineering and design firm Arup, reports Clean Technica.

“While cities are having to retrofit themselves to accommodate things like electric vehicles, the cool thing about building a city from the ground up is that we can think about this stuff now,” said Cameron Thompson of Arup, which is focusing on sustainability issues.

Energy efficiency is baked into all new buildings planned for Union Point. All commercial structures will meet LEED gold or platinum standards. Internet of things technology will be included to monitor and control all mechanical and electrical systems for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment.

LED lighting will be used exclusively inside and out. The buildings themselves will be networked together to minimize the total electrical needs of the commercial part of the city.

By focusing on sustainability, Union Point hopes to become a magnet for businesses looking for new home for new corporate homes — a place where their employees can live and work in a healthy environment. LStar also hopes to draw high-tech companies whose leaders are enticed by its focus on sustainable living. For those who need to commute to Boston, a rail line is already in place that provides access to the city in as little as 20 minutes.

A focus on renewable energy

Renewable energy will play a big role in providing electrical energy to the new city. Rooftop solar will be installed on most of Union Point’s downtown buildings and a solar farm will be constructed nearby.

Grid-scale battery storage technology will be used as the costs decrease over time.

“The project has come at a perfect time because a lot of the necessary technologies are becoming affordable and readily available,” Thomson said.

The goal is to make Union Point a zero-emissions city by 2050, with solar and wind power being predominant in the energy mix.

LStar Ventures is working with National Grid to make the electricity available from the local grid cleaner. Massachusetts, like many other jurisdictions, is looking at transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy by mid-century.

Plans call for 4,000 residential units and 10 million square feet of commercial space. Rooftop farms will provide local restaurants with some of their produce. Beside green public spaces within the community, Union Point will be surrounded by 1,000 acres of green habitat with 50 miles of hiking and bike trails.

Although the first commercial buildings will be finished by the end of 2018, the entire project is expected to cost $5 billion and take 15 years to complete. There are already 500 homes in the Union Point community that were built by the prior developer, which exited the project in 2015 and sold its holdings to LStar.

Sustainable cities are coming, but slowly

Sustainable cities are a work in progress. The lessons learned from the Union Point project will help other communities meet their sustainable cities goals faster and more economically.

Ngai Yin Yip, assistant professor at Columbia University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, tells The Huffington Post that weaning ourselves from fossil fuels will be a long and often painful process.

“It’s a huge gap we’re probably not going to be able to close in one leap,” he said.

He adds that Union Point’s gradual approach makes the most sense. 

“We still have a lot of lessons to learn about how we build our cities so that they are truly sustainable, so that they can achieve a near zero carbon footprint. And these lessons a lot of times might need to be learned the hard way.”



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