(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
Boston city councilors speaking at a recent panel discussion shared the goal of making the city more environmentally responsible and called on residents to help them work toward that goal.
Seven councilors participated in the talk on City Hall Plaza as part of Boston GreenFest, and though their recommendations differed in some details, they shared basic themes.
While only half the councilors were present Saturday, Councilor at Large Felix G. Arroyo said he believed all 13 were in agreement on the broad goal of making the city greener.
“It’s just the right thing to do for so many reasons,” Arroyo said. “There’s so many good arguments to do this, including the economy.”
Some said the ultimate goal should be to make Boston the greenest city in the country, or even the world. Councilor at Large John R. Connolly set the bar high.
“We have a long way to go if we want to achieve that vision,” Connolly said. “I think we can look at our successes but also see where we need to go to go farther.”
Councilors lauded the city’s single-stream recycling program, which some favored expanding by increasing the types of items that can be recycled and also by making bins more widely available in public spaces and introducing them to the city’s schools.
District 5 Councilor Robert Consalvo and District 6 Councilor Matt O’Malley said they also hope to reduce waste by working with community groups Bag-Free JP and Greening Roslindale to draft new legislation to reduce or eliminate the use of plastic bags in the city.
Consalvo offered a similar ordinance two years ago that didn’t move forward for a variety of reasons, he said, but in the intervening time other cities had tried similar bills that made it clearer what the ordinance would need to work. The new legislation should be ready this fall.
Councilors pointed out several issues where addressing environmental issues dovetailed with other community concerns, or areas in which they felt the two should be made to intersect. O’Malley cited dual benefits of increasing opportunities to drop off unused prescription drugs, which would keep the drugs out of the hands of recreational users while preventing them from being flushed down the toilet and entering the city's sewage.
Councilor At Large Ayanna Pressley pointed to the benefits of community gardens, which she said have increased from only two to around 15 in Dorchester in the past two years thanks to a grant from the Boston Public Health Commission.
“What I love about that is that it’s not only about supporting local and urban agriculture and creating access to healthy foods, but it also was community fostering,” she said. “If you visit any of these gardens, you’ll see seniors and young people intergenerationally mixing and interacting in a way that we don’t see as often in our society today.”
O’Malley joined Pressley and Connolly in calling for Boston Public Schools to take a leadership role in educating children about environmental issues. Pressley called for comprehensive sex and health education curriculum in the city’s schools that would include nutrition. Shea also said she wanted to see a civics curriculum that would teach students to be environmentally responsible.
“I don’t believe our young people spontaneously combust at the age of 18 and suddenly care about government and want to participate,” Pressley said. “The same is true in terms of them being a green citizen.”
She echoed statements by Connolly, who said the success of these efforts would ultimately depend on the next generation of Bostonians, who will transform the city and already are leading the way in environmental responsibility.
He said children learn from what they see, and adults must serve as examples. Schools must teach children both in the classroom and through responsible practices, such as recycling, that being environmentally conscious is a civic virtue.
“We want to think about sustainability in the same way that we think about the importance of voting, in the same way that we think about the importance of community,” he said. “We want sustainability to be a virtue at the very heart of what we do as citizens living in this city and people living in this city.”
Connolly also advocated increasing opportunities for education about the environment through building an environmental science academy in Dudley Square as part of Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s efforts to revitalize the area.
Several councilors identified environmental issues as inextricably linked not just to the education but also the health of the city’s young people, with Arroyo and District 7 Councilor Tito H. Jackson both citing concerns about high asthma rates.
A lifelong asthmatic and chair of a council committee created to look at asthma among city residents, Arroyo said people often overlook the direct effect of the environment on public health
“Asthma happens to be one of those diseases that is very prevalent among communities of color and within urban settings, and it really doesn’t take a genius to figure out parts of the reason as to why,” Arroyo said. “And that’s because urban settings tend to be more polluted, and the air you’re breathing isn’t as clean.”
He said that’s why his committee is working to get all city buildings to use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, as well as to ban smoking in public housing and parks and to reduce vehicle emissions.
Arroyo and Jackson both saw a success in the recent introduction of the Hubway bike-sharing program to the city but suggested the city needs to go further in creating more infrastructure to make biking safer and easier in the city.
“I think bike lanes are a good thing,” Jackson said. “Oftentimes, in other places, there are also bike-tire air pumps on the sidewalks throughout other cities where biking is prevalent.”
Jackson also noted that while the users of the Hubway system have so far been disproportionately affluent, the public health commission is subsidizing one-year memberships at $15 for low-income residents.
He said more efforts should be made to include underserved communities in the greening of the city, and that new green jobs created in construction and weatherization should include opportunities for people with criminal records trying to make a fresh start.
District 4 Councilor Charles C. Yancey recalled his time as chair of the council’s waste management committee in 1988, when the city first passed an ordinance requiring recycling. He said Boston has come a long way toward being environmentally responsible in the past two decades, but many of the same issues remain.
Yancey encouraged residents to keep up the fight.
“It’s not a foregone conclusion that Boston will become the green city that we want it to be,” Yancey said, “but without your support and activism, it’s less likely to happen.”
Email Jeremy C. Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)