Neighborhood-Scale Sustainable Development Case Study
The Talbot-Norfolk Triangle Eco-Innovation District (TNT EID) is a comprehensive sustainable development initiative spanning 13 blocks of Codman Square, a historic district in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, MA. Codman Square boasts a long history as one of Boston’s major civic centers and is host to a wealth of historic buildings including schools, churches and public facilities dating as far back as the early 19th century. However, the district has historically been underserved and economically disadvantaged, with an increasing number of abandoned commercial buildings and unsafe, deteriorating residential housing stock.
Historic Codman Square has been a neighborhood and community center for many years. Over 35 years ago, a place-based organizing entity, the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corp. (CSNDC), was formed and for the last 13 years has been led by Gail Latimore, a former architect and veteran of nonprofit management and development with over 25 years of experience working in the public and nonprofit sectors. In 2009, the community began an extensive, community-based, area-wide planning process called Millennium 10. This work engaged over 1,000 residents in a comprehensive effort to create bold environmental, economic and social equity goals in the Talbot Norfolk Triangle. Partially fueled by a new transit corridor, the Fairmont Commuter Rail Line, in 2012 the neighborhood coalesced around a grassroots commitment to sustainable redevelopment without displacement and a focus on job creation, transit-oriented growth and neighborhood revitalization. The effort spurred the creation of the Codman Square Eco-Innovation District.
The TNT EID is the first district in the City of Boston formed specifically to address both sustainability and economic prosperity in a holistic urban regeneration process. The TNT EID aims to implement projects such as equitable transit-oriented development, renewable energy generation, open space, walkability, urban agriculture, green infrastructure, public health and safety and local job creation. The TNT EID also focuses on performance and reporting, and it received a Barr Foundation grant to measure the climate-related impacts of sustainable development throughout the district.
TNT EID and EcoDistricts: Building Local Governance Capacity to Keep Benefits in the Neighborhood
The partnership between the TNT EID and EcoDistricts began in 2013. As part of the annual EcoDistricts Summit, EcoDistricts and CSNDC co-hosted a charrette to accelerate the TNT EID’s community regeneration journey. The charrette convened over 60 local leaders, residents and urban regeneration practitioners from across the globe to provide expert guidance to the TNT EID team.
In June 2014, the relationship between the TNT EID and EcoDistricts deepened with the district’s recruitment into the two-year EcoDistricts Target Cities pilot program, designed to advance sustainable, district-scale development while creating replicable models for change. Target Cities also was an opportunity to advance a group of exemplary, diverse projects through peer learning and shared experience. The program focused on collaborative governance training, technical assistance and peer networking to help projects align stakeholder interests and responsibilities, establish a district governance model, create a district roadmap and implement catalytic projects.
Over the course of the Target Cities program, the TNT EID team traveled to five U.S. cities for four workshops, one charrette and one convening hosted at the 2014 EcoDistricts Summit. Each host city — including Boston, MA, Washington, DC, Atlanta, GA and Denver, CO — acted as a learning laboratory in which Target Cities members saw other communities’ projects first-hand and shared stories and strategies. After Target Cities concluded at the end of 2016, the TNT EID evaluated its progress and continued challenges.
EQUITY + PLACE: Codman Square has an expanding portfolio of affordable housing through existing building renovations and LEED-certifiable new construction. They’ve also developed incentives and programs for first-time homebuyers and rent support for low-income families. TNT EID has developed financial literacy and homeownership initiatives to educate residents and prevent displacement.
CLIMATE PROTECTION + RESOURCE REGENERATION: Home energy retrofits, financed through grants and programs, have improved the energy efficiency of over one-third (or more than 500) of the district’s homes and apartments. Additionally, green bus shelters, rain barrels, solar panels and other sustainable infrastructure are actively being implemented across the TNT EID. A recently completed TNT EID Energy Feasibility Analysis indicated that the district’s combined green infrastructure and energy investments could reduce greenhouse gasses in the TNT EID by 11 percent while saving neighborhood stakeholders $267,900 on energy costs. Graduate students from Boston University and staff from sustainability consultant Linnean Solutions assisted with the feasibility study.
CONNECTIVITY: The TNT EID was selected as one of only two Boston neighborhoods to pilot a Slow Streets initiative under Boston’s Vision Zero Plan to eliminate fatal and serious traffic crashes by 2030. Projects that have been implemented across the TNT EID as a result of the Slow Streets program include wayfinding, green zones
and traffic calming measures.
PROSPERITY: Planning is underway to convert the district’s aging Auto Mall into a mixed-use hub of innovation and housing, complete with career training centers and community spaces. The hub also will include business and retail space to attract startup ventures and entrepreneurs.
HEALTH + WELLBEING: In 2015, CSNDC, in partnership with the Boston Project Ministries, received a three year, $100,000 grant from the Boston Public Health Commission as part of the Partnerships to Improve Community Health to expand the CSNDC’s smoke-free housing policy and promote health and mobility in the TNT EID. Additionally, an initiative is underway in the district to promote biking as an alternative and healthy form of transportation. Finally, the district is now home to an urban agriculture co-op that sells its produce at a local farmers market; provides job training, placement and referrals to previously incarcerated men of color; and and provides an urban gleaning program.
Lessons Learned + Continued Challenges
At the end of the two-year Target City program engagement period, each participating district was evaluated by its internal staff and board, and by EcoDistricts personnel. The comments below reflect shared assessments by all parties and describe the very real challenges that communities face in their effort to regenerate underserved or blighted neighborhoods, even those with a reputation for advancing exemplary projects and/or demonstrating best-practices.
- Codman Square is characterized by consistency, shared vision and commitment. Its goals and objectives are clear to all parties and success can be quantitatively and qualitatively measured.
- Despite the experience and dedication of the CSNDC staff, efforts remain understaffed and underfunded with gains made too slowly, particularly compared with private sector development efforts. Nonetheless, the pace of housing creation has accelerated and small commercial gains can be seen throughout the TNT EID.
- Coordination with the City of Boston continues to change with incoming and outgoing political leadership. Grant funding is inconsistent and slow.
- While community engagement is critical to CSNDC’s formation and implementation process, residents are busy and have limited capacity for volunteer engagement.
- Build a portfolio of neighborhoods seeking certification in Boston, leveraging Codman Square as a peer learning opportunity.
- Map a district-scale strategic engagement plan for the city of Boston and the Redevelopment Authority.
- Initiate key anti-displacement and sound equity engagement policies for the city’s “Imagine Boston 2030” plan.
In Their Own Words
“Operating between building-level programs and city-wide policy, ecodistricts are an important economy-of-scale approach to further urban sustainability.”
– Brian Swett, City of Boston
“Target Cities gave us a chance to see the development of urban regeneration projects across the country in cities like Denver, Atlanta and Washington, DC. It was good to know that there are folks experiencing challenges like ours and to see how they and their communities are addressing them.
Branding us together as ‘ecodistricts’ gives a sense of common purpose and additional leverage as our small group negotiates with city and private sector developers.
– Gail Latimore, Executive Director, Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation
“Target Cities introduced us to a range of experts, from foundations to energy experts to planners and engineers, whom we could not have afforded to hire on our own. Now we feel like we have a bigger team helping us take some of the important next steps.
– Dave Queeley, Eco-Innovation Fellow, CSNDC