Recap :: Stephen Messinger, Ames Lecture

Image: Rand Lemley
By Rand Lemley, BArch Candidate
With support from the 2012 John Worthington Ames Scholarship, Stephen Messinger traveled through Sweden and Denmark, lived in a passive house, met with community leaders, and explored the successes and failures of a region striving to identify itself as leading the way in sustainable practice. Last week, Stephen shared those experiences through a collection of images gathered while abroad in an effort to answer the question, “What can Boston learn from this?”

Stephen Messinger is a recent BAC graduate who served in multiple positions in Atelier and acted as project director for Team Boston’s Solar Decathlon entry in 2009. He is a LEED AP, currently works as a Junior Designer for a local architectural firm, and is on the BAC Alumni Board.

Apartment block with solar panels. Image: Stephen Messinger
For the majority of his stay, Stephen stayed in a passive house in Malmo, Sweden. This city was a shipbuilding hub until the manufacturing migrated to Asia in the 1970’s. Malmo slipped into disrepair. In the mid-90’s, the community rallied to rebuild around three big ideas: transportation, education, and sustainability. It was these three ideas which have made the area into an example to which many cities look to for revitalization.

In the realm of transportation, Stephen saw many ways that Malmo had jumped ahead -- bus stations with digital displays of bus locations and routes, biofuel buses and garbage collection -- but he focused on the role of bicycles in daily life. The bicycle is such an integral part to life that the organization of street traffic is tailored to include the cyclist. Clear painted divisions on the pavement, special roundabouts, and streets closed to only pedestrian and bicycle traffic all serve to make sustainable travel easier and safer. 

City street closed to motor vehicles. Image: Stephen Messinger
Stephen remarked on how prevalent bikes and bike parking was, using the Malmo soccer stadium as an example. While riding past, he stopped to count the spots for parking bikes and reached 2000. The amount of car parking? Around 500. Rather than taxis or shuttles, hotels provide bicycles for their patrons. There are bikes for people carrying, grocery shopping, mail delivery, and various unique purposes. And, like Boston, Malmo has a bike-share program. However, Malmo offers a seasonal pass for the equivalent of $45 that lasts from spring to late fall by which a person can borrow a bike at any time and return it to any location.

To become an educational hub, Malmo recently repurposed many of the industrial warehouses formerly used for shipbuilding into university buildings. The most popular degree path at the university is sustainability. Stephen remarked that while the locals mock the new university for stepping outside tradition, in deeper conversation they respect and appreciate the vitality it brings to the area.

Park space created from passive runoff water filtration. Image: Stephen Messinger
Malmo has improved sustainability in many ways, but the method which shows the extent that the community has bought into the idea is waste separation. In each basement or ground floor, a series of collection bins is marked with the appropriate recyclable material to be deposited in each -- plastics, paper, batteries, electronics. At the end of the line is a bin marked “Restavfall” which Stephen nicknamed “Rest-of-it-all.” This bin collects everything that can’t be recycled. Anything that can be converted to biogas is used to fuel the city buses, while the remainder is incinerated to heat homes.

Residual waste or "Rest-of-it-all."  Image: Stephen Messinger
As Stephen has discovered, Boston has much to learn from Sweden. The only way we can change our habits is by thinking critically about them. What are the ways we can, as individuals, live more sustainably? And how can we encourage and educate our communities to work together for sustainability? Stephen has given us some valuable examples to support progress on home soil.

For more of Stephen's experiences, you can visit his blog.