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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Construction > Environmental > The Greening Of Southie (2008/A&E DVD)

The Greening of Southie (2008/A&E DVD)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: C     Documentary: B+



The “green” movement championing environmentalism has now reached into traditionally wasteful industries like construction.  Of course, construction in and of itself confers immense benefits on communities by employing thousands of workers and often improving neighborhoods and cityscapes with new and exciting projects.  However, until recently, a lot of waste and environmental damage moved in the wake of most large construction projects.  Several years ago the U.S. Green Building Council created the LEED certification program.  According to the USGBC, “LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally-recognized green building certification system. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in March 2000, LEED provides building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.” 


The Greening of Southie tracks the design, development, and construction of a building striving for LEED Gold status.  Gold status marks the highest level of LEED certification, and consequently remains the most difficult level to attain.  Filmmakers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis introduce viewers to the varied cast of real-life characters behind the ambitious project to create the Macallen Building and locate in the heart of working class South Boston, or Southie as the traditionally Irish Catholic neighborhood is known to its roughneck denizens. 


But the formerly blue collar Southie stands in the midst of significant changes, as massive gentrification projects and new wealthier residents have begun to move in.  At the epicenter of these changes sits the Macallen Building.  The Greening of Southie’s examination of the transition from traditional construction to this new form of green building does not seek to hide the challenges and problems faced by the men and women behind the project.  A lot of the stuff that goes into LEED certification makes tremendous sense, but the implementation can sometimes be fraught with unforeseen issues.  The ultimate goal of LEED Gold status is to create a building that wastes as little materials and energy as possible in its construction and lifetime operation.  However, at one point, the non-toxic adhesives used to secure the bamboo flooring fails to properly acclimatize in the cold Boston winter, and the floor boards have to be torn up, with many of them having to be replaced.  This wastes time, energy, and materials. 


Another interesting juxtaposition in the film occurs when Cheney and Ellis examine the lives of the workers on the project.  All blue collar and hard working, several of these men express some sadness at the fact that they’ll never be able to afford to live in a place like the Macallen Building.  This highlights one of the short-term challenges of green building--it’s expensive.  Will green building always be only for the rich?  When will economies of scale kick in and force green projects into middle and lower income neighborhoods?  These questions remain unanswered in the film, but credit should go to Cheney and Ellis for at least asking them.


In the end the Macallen Building earns its high LEED certification, and viewers enjoy a behind the scenes look into what it takes to produce green buildings.  In the more than two years since the building in Southie has gone up, it’s likely that some of the challenges faced there have been surmounted in other green projects.  The question remains: can the LEED certification program and green buildings take hold fast enough to make a real difference?  We’ll need a lot more Macallen buildings before we can know for sure.



-   Scott Pyle


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