Green Living On Beacon Hill

The Beacon Hill community loves its historic gas lamps, brick sidewalks, 18- and 19th century homes and neighborly feel. For decades it has worked to preserve and maintain them.

But the community also wants to stay current with the best green practices and technological advances. For that reason, it aspired to integrate green living with historic preservation in its Plan for the Neighborhood, published by the Beacon Hill Civic Association in 2011.

Historic Preservation

In 1955, the Beacon Hill Historic District was formed to maintain the neighborhood as a landmark in the history of architecture. At that time the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission (BHAC) was charged with its preservation by determining the appropriateness of proposed changes to exterior architectural features, signage and street furniture. Its success in doing so speaks for itself.

Sometimes, though, new needs conflict with preservation. Boston’s Public Works Department for example, wants BHAC approval to construct wheelchair-accessible curb cut ramps using poured cement concrete and plastic tactile warning panels throughout the neighborhood. Both the BHAC and the community want the neighborhood to be more accessible to the disabled, but they opposed the city’s plan primarily because of its choice of materials.  “This can easily be done by using historically-appropriate materials and thoughtful designs,” wrote Phillips Street resident Rob Whitney.  There has yet to be a resolution.

At other times old can be as good as new. While energy efficiency can be achieved by installing new insulated windows, repairing existing ones can be less costly, reduce heat loss and preserve the unique character of the original glazing, said former BHAC commissioner and Chestnut Street resident Frank McGuire at a 2011 Green Forum.

Energy Conservation

By laying out the necessary steps to reduce the causes of climate change, Boston’s nationally recognized Climate Action Plan has given communities like Beacon Hill a framework for building greener, healthier and more sustainable neighborhoods.  The BHCA Green Committee also works to support and encourage sustainable living, with its primary focus on recycling, transportation and the home.

Both encourage individual residents to take small steps, such as using cold water for laundry, installing led light bulbs and taking public transportation more often, while working collectively with others to develop more effective energy efficient policies.

And both recommend that residents wanting to make their homes more energy-efficient first have energy assessments, offered at no cost by the utilities companies as well as Next Step Living, a home energy-efficient company that conducts audits through MassSave.

The city’s Renew Boston Whole Building Incentive provides eligible condo owners, landlords and tenants of two and three family homes enhanced energy efficiency audits, incentives and savings for their buildings.

Beacon Hill resident Cynthia Salton wanted to save energy by harnessing solar power for her condominium on Mt. Vernon Street but was told that solar panels are not allowed downtown. “Beacon Hill is connected to the downtown network grid that, like others in most US major metropolitan cities, is designed to be highly reliable because it provides for many contingencies,” explained Michael Durand, spokesman for NStar. “Unfortunately, its limitation is in the difficulty of engineering it to accept power from solar panels and wind turbines. ” NStar is conducting ongoing pilot programs to determine and test options that would allow it to accept such power, he added.

Undaunted, last month Salton installed solar hot water panels on her roof that are not visible from a public way and someday may be hooked up to the grid. “I cannot yet tell how often my hot water heater is powered by the sun and how often it takes energy from the grid,” she said, “but I believe that for a great portion of the year, the power is exclusively solar.”

Another option for Beacon Hillers is ductless mini-splits (also known as air-source heat pumps) to heat and cool homes, said Next Step Living’s Ben Harel at a recent Green Committee meeting.

Sustainable eating

The Eat Local movement spreading across the country is thriving on Beacon Hill. During the last few years, more and more restaurants, such as the Beacon Hill Bistro, serve meats, fish and produce from local farms and fisheries.

At residents’ requests, local foods are becoming more frequently available at markets like Savenor’s and Whole Foods. Sweet Georgia P’s, a family run organic farm in Pittsfield, Vermont, brings a truckload of fresh fruits and vegetables for Beacon Hillers weekly during the summer participating in its food share program. The Cape Cod Fish Share program also has a pick up location on Beacon Hill.


Through its occasional stories in the media and publications, the Green Committee educates residents on what items may be left for the city’s recycling collection, how they should be bagged, and where those not accepted by the city can be taken.

Many residents who recycle regularly say they weekly accumulate little trash but several bags of recycling, which pile up in their homes. “But because recyclables are now picked up only once a week, many resort to throwing them out with the trash on other days,” said committee member Ania Camargo of Temple Street.

So the Green Committee asked residents if they would like the city to replace one day of trash pickup with a second day of recycling. About 65% of the 533 residents surveyed said yes. The remainder wanted to keep the status quo.

Discussions about the trash and recycling schedules are now going on at the BHCA because the city will soon begin contract negotiations with the haulers, said Keeta Gilmore, BHCA president and a Garden Street resident.

Cecily and Ben Colburn of West Hill Place are among the few neighbors who have their produce scraps and other compostable food wastes collected regularly by Bootstrap Compost, a year-round residential and commercial food scrap pickup service. “Since launching on New Year’s Day 2011, our roster of Beacon Hillers has waxed and waned,” said the company’s founder Andy Brooks, whose business has jumped considerably in other parts of the city.  “Over the years we’ve signed up and served just nine households on the Hill.”

Despite the small number, Brooks estimated that the three years of weekly and biweekly service for those customers alone amounted to thousands of pounds of food scraps diverted from landfills, thereby eliminating massive amounts of harmful greenhouse gas from slipping into the atmosphere and creating an all-natural soil amendment for use in Boston’s urban agricultural ecosystem.

Next week, the Beacon Hill Times will look at alternative means of transportation in the community’s quest for greener living.

Send your thoughts, comments and accomplishments you know about to [email protected]. They’ll be compiled with others’ thoughts in subsequent articles.

1 comment for “Green Living On Beacon Hill

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.