Background and History

The Need for a Smart Utilities Vision

In 2015, the BPDA and the City of Boston launched the Smart Utilities Vision project (“SUV project”), an interdepartmental initiative led by the BPDA aimed toward developing strategies for more equitable, sustainable, affordable, resilient, and innovative utility services in the City of Boston.

Over the years it has become increasingly clear to City staff in different departments involved in planning, design and construction that utility and infrastructure construction and maintenance is often inefficient and unsustainable. For instance, repetitive street openings cause business downtime, and innovation is stifled due to a lack of an integrated utility planning framework. Moreover, with modern information systems and technologies, there are more efficient, equitable and sustainable ways of designing and building utilities and infrastructure that improve upon the “business as usual” approach.

The need for this coordinated utility infrastructure planning at the earliest stages of the development review process was made evident by the recent rapid construction of certain neighborhoods of the City, such as the South Boston Waterfront. While some new approaches to the development of the district were very positive, the “business as usual” approach to some utility planning failed to maximize district-scale opportunities for the deployment of SUTs and continues to result in multiple costly and unnecessary street openings.

The SUV project responded directly to city-wide strategic plans. For example, Imagine Boston 2030 identifies District Energy Microgrids as one means to increase climate resiliency during grid power outages and improve equity by decreasing energy costs. Resilient Boston identifies Green Infrastructure as a tool to increase resilience to flooding and as a source of new jobs.

Achieving the goals of these city-wide plans related to utility and infrastructure required a new model for utility planning and design that integrates infrastructure planning across City departments, and facilitates the deployment of SUTs. The SUV project resulted in engineering and policy recommendations for water, energy, telecommunication, and transit infrastructure, aimed to:

  • Promote utilities that are easier to build, maintain and upgrade
  • Reduce energy/water/telecommunication costs for residents and businesses
  • Harden infrastructure against flooding and heat waves
  • Attract businesses through world-class utility services
  • Integrate cutting edge technologies for innovation

Two Implementation Tools

The SUV project resulted in two (2) key products for implementation of the new model for utility design, planning, and construction:

  1. The Smart Utilities Policy for Article 80 Development Review—first adopted by the BPDA Board on June 14, 2018 and more recently updated on October 15, 2020 —calls for five (5) of the ten (10) SUTs studied throughout the SUV project to be incorporated into new Article 80 developments. This policy was launched as a two year pilot and included informational education sessions with developers, engineers, architects, and City staff.
  2. The Smart Utility Standards set forth guidelines for planning and integration of SUTs with existing utility infrastructure on new streets, including cross-section, lateral, and intersection diagrams of an ideal layout for underground services in 40’ and 60’ right-of-ways. The Smart Utility Standards are intended to serve as guidelines for developers, architects, engineers, and utility providers for planning, designing, and locating utilities, and are particularly important for areas proposing new streets.

The Analysis Phase that led to the Implementation Tools

The Project started with the examination of an analytical test case based on the PLAN: South Boston Dorchester Avenue Planning Initiative, adopted December 2016 (“PLAN Dot Ave”). The 144-acre PLAN Dot Ave envisions a long-term build-out of 12 to 16 million square feet of new development and 2 miles of new roads and sidewalks, all needing new utility infrastructure. The Project resulted in two analytical products that supported the development of the Smart Utilities Policy for Article 80 Development Review and the Smart Utility Standards.

  1. Baseline Report: Explores the cost of building out utilities in the PLAN Dot Ave area on a “business as usual” basis over 20 years
  2. Assessment of Costs and Benefits: Models the costs and benefits over a 20 to 30 year construction period deploying ten (10) SUTs, compared to adopting “business as usual” utility construction practices

The selection of the five (5) technologies to be advanced in the Smart Utilities Policy for Article 80 Development Review was based on (a) extensive stakeholder engagement with technical experts, developers, and City staff, and (b) analysis of financial feasibility as demonstrated through the Cost Benefit Analysis report.

Collaboration and Engagement

Led by the BPDA, the Project has been developed in collaboration with several City departments and agencies, including: Environment Department, Department of Public Works (DPW), Public Improvement Commission (PIC), Boston Transportation Department (BTD), Department of Information Technology (DoIT), Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) and Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC). A Steering Committee composed of representatives of these departments continues to meet biweekly to oversee the work and the implementation of the Project.

External stakeholder engagement initially took place at three Smart Utility Whiteboarding Sessions, in May 2016, January 2017, and July 2017 to review the Business As Usual Report, the Cost Benefit Analysis, the SUS, and envision implementation strategies. Stakeholders represented all pertinent sectors, including utility companies (i.e., Eversource, National Grid, Veolia), other private sector stakeholders (i.e., JP Morgan, ARUP, Schneider Electric), public sector entities (i.e., MassCEC, NECEC), non-profit organizations (i.e., Innovation for Cities, C40), and academic institutions (i.e., Harvard Business School, MIT).

During the development of the SUV Project and the Smart Utilities Policy for Article 80 Development Review and the implementation of the pilot phase of the project, staff also conferred extensively with well over a dozen developers who regularly do business in Boston.

More recently, in preparation for the 2-year performance review of the BSU Program, two Smart Utilities Assessment and Update stakeholder engagement sessions were held on May 28–29, 2020.

For any questions about this Policy for Article 80 Development Review and Smart Utility Standards, please contact Senior Infrastructure and Energy Planner Travis Anderson at [email protected] or 617.918.4489.