The US Embassy and Bristol City Council recently hosted a panel discussion on Just Transition to Net Zero economies. Alongside the event, Womble Bond Dickinson's (WBD) UK Partner Sponsor for Net Zero, Jon Bower, met with Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, the City of Boston's Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space, to discuss how the US and UK can learn from each other when it comes to achieving net zero economies at regional level, with key focuses on sustainable communities and housing.

Both Boston and Bristol have faced similar challenges

Visiting the UK has given Rev. Mariama White-Hammond the opportunity to examine the similarities between Bristol and Boston. Like its British counterpart, Boston is suffering from a housing crisis and the government is looking for ways to address this while moving forward with its sustainability goals. With the two cities similar in size, Mariama said she hoped "to learn from the ways Bristol is approaching similar challenges" whilst also sharing what the City of Boston is doing to address these problems. 

Building communities, not just housing

Mariama explained how building stronger communities should be at the core of supporting affordable housing, adding that how cities utilise green spaces will play a key role. "We are looking at open spaces from two key perspectives - one is about quality of life and really making sure that as the city gets denser, everybody has access to a great place to build connections…but also they are going to be important to us in terms of our climate mitigation work." Mariama shared that the City of Boston is investing heavily in planting trees, adding cooling features to parks in designated heat zones, and reworking seawalls to help protect both the environment and its citizens. 

In the past, Boston prioritised high income communities when it came to climate work and improvements, but now there has been a shift to improve low income communities and in particular communities of colour. "We are asking ourselves how do we use our climate work to protect people, to make them safer, to raise their quality of life and to do so in a way that repairs the harm that was caused by past decisions," Mariama said. But with land at a premium, the City has to be creative. "We are not swimming in land," Mariama admitted. "When I was a kid and the city was in decline we had a lot of land, but now every last parcel people want it, they want to build on it, so we have got to be creative and make sure that every piece of land can play two and three roles." 

Delivering skills for communities to flourish

To help build sustainable communities, the City of Boston is helping people thrive through upskilling and employment opportunities. Similar to a successful scheme in Philadelphia, Boston has developed a programme called 'Power Corps', which trains young people in neighbourhoods with higher levels of pollution and a lack of green spaces. Opportunities are given to upskill and provide careers in areas such as urban forestry and smart building systems. This has already been a success in Philadelphia, where 70% of the Philadelphia Water Department's green stormwater infrastructure unit roles has come from the Power Corps programme.

Tackling environmental and economic issues as one 

For cities like Boston, environmental and economic issues go hand in hand and Mariama stressed that tackling the two together is the best way forward. The City received "game changing" federal funding with a significant portion invested in housing and climate change. "We work from the fundamental notion that the only successful solution to either of these problems [is to] bring the two together," she said. "How do we address the climate crisis in a way that increases economic justice and lifts people out of poverty and unemployment? We need every single person to be involved in addressing the climate crisis. But there are some people that we are leaving out because we are not giving them the opportunity to bring their skills and their talents to the workforce." In terms of housing, investment is also being made to retrofit affordable housing to make homes more energy efficient and the City is working with its labour unions to train and supply skilled workers to undertake the projects, representing another example of tackling environmental and economic issues together.

The importance of public and private sector collaboration

"This is an all hands on deck moment and it's important for the City to be involved, but there is no way to do this without the private sector also playing a role," said Mariama, who also highlighted how companies such as Womble Bond Dickinson can lead by example in the way they operate their buildings and address issues like transportation with their workforce.

Womble Bond Dickinson, perfectly positioned to support investment in communities to achieve net zero economies at a regional level, recently launched its 'Growing Global' campaign, providing guidance for business leaders navigating global challenges including supply chains, international, trade and cross-border transactions and supporting investment in local regions from a global perspective. 

This article is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice.