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Located 12 miles (19 km) south of Boston and stretching across the towns of Weymouth, Abington, and Rockland, the 1,500-acre (600 ha) site where LStar Ventures is developing a technologically advanced smart community called Union Point already has an illustrious history. In a previous life, it was a U.S. Navy air station, the home base for blimps that patrolled the Atlantic Coast during World War II and helped keep munitions ships safe from Nazi submarines.

“There was a certain local pride in hosting the military,” recalls Robert Hedlund, the mayor of Weymouth who as a child once got a chance to fly at the base, thanks to an officers’ flying club that gave rides to local students.

Today, the navy blimps and planes are long gone, replaced by a newer form of transportation: electric autonomous vans, which already are cruising Union Point’s roads, transporting local residents as part of a pilot program. And the base’s massive 1940s-era hangar building, which was one of the biggest structures of its type in the world when it was built, is being repurposed as the downtown hub of a community that will include 4,000 residential units and 10 million square feet (929,000 sq m) of commercial development, including office space, retail uses, entertainment, and sports facilities.

Cities across the United States are scrambling to upgrade their energy and transportation systems, and developers are erecting smart buildings. But Raleigh, North Carolina–based LStar, which took over the redevelopment of the old naval facility in 2015, has an even more ambitious vision. The developer is partnering with technology giant General Electric in a plan to build a small smart city virtually from scratch, one that will incorporate an array of innovations into one coherent system. Union Point will have a smart grid that in part will use solar energy, streets and garages designed with autonomous vehicles in mind, and an array of sensors embedded into the landscape that will enable managers to monitor sound, light, and environmental conditions, amassing big data for analysis to optimize Union Point’s operations. A recent New York Times headline called it “a connected city from the ground up.”

Moreover, Union Point is being designed to evolve as new innovations arise, explains Gerry Kavanaugh, president of LStar’s Boston division, who is overseeing all phases of development. “The idea of a smart city is changing every day,” he says. “We need to keep up to speed with what the new technologies are. We’ve written that into the budget and the business plan.”

Over the next two decades, LStar aims to create a smart-city showcase—a “living laboratory,” in Kavanaugh’s words—that will lure technology companies as tenants. But the developer’s aspirations go beyond that. Union Point’s master plan envisions a place that will blend urbanism with nature. “We are taking 1,500 acres [600 ha] of formerly federal land and making two-thirds of it—1,000 acres [400 ha]—into green space, with 50 miles [81 km] of hiking and biking trails,” Kavanaugh explains. “And we’re building a small city on the rest. You rarely get the opportunity to do something like this.”

Turning a Blimp Base into a City

Thanks to a commuter rail station built by the state, Union Point is just a 20-minute transit trip to Boston, enabling many of the community’s 2,000 residents to commute there to work. But Kavanaugh envisions attracting enough technology companies to the smart city that Bostonians eventually may make the trip in the opposite direction. He hopes for a synergy to develop between Union Point and Boston’s rising Seaport district. “We’ll have commercial users who grow out of the Seaport and come to us,” he says.

Already, Union Point has attracted one major technology tenant, Dutch robotics outfit Prodrive Technologies, which is in the process of designing a 110,000-square-foot (10,000 sq m) facility there. While space for expansion and proximity to Boston were the key factors in the company’s decision, “Union Point was especially attractive in that it is going to be a state-of-the-art smart city,” Roy Willems, the company’s U.S. general manager, explained in an email. “Prodrive, being a high-tech company, has a keen understanding and appreciation of this, since we already developed and are developing technology and products for use in smart cities.”

LStar is in discussions with both companies and universities about locating research and development facilities in Union Point, with a focus on those involved in robotics and artificial intelligence. The most challenging aspect, Kavanaugh says, is getting tenants and developers to commit at the same time, so that they start and finish simultaneously. “That way, we have a small downtown district that’s up and running, rather than one coming in after the other, so that it takes ten years,” he says.

The developer also stands to benefit from an expedited one-stop permit process, set up by the state legislators and the three towns in which Union Point is located, to get new construction going quickly. “Once we get a user who’s ready to go, we can get their building approved in 60 days or less,” Kavanaugh says.

Such a large tract of land near Boston remains available for development in large part because the Pentagon hung onto the naval air station for decades before finally shutting it down in 1997. “Once it was closed, it went through a bunch of different iterations,” Kavanaugh explains. After those efforts to develop the site for major residential use didn’t pan out, he says, LStar came with a different approach. The towns “wanted more job-producing and tax-producing uses, and we agreed with them. We went back and master-planned the entire site, with 4,000 housing units but more commercial as well.”

To fashion the master plan, LStar turned to Boston architecture firms Elkus Manfredi and Sasaki, which came up with a design in which green space surrounds and is interspersed with a cluster of neighborhoods around the mixed-use downtown. The downtown’s focal point is Hangar Square, a public space in a neighborhood that will include housing options ranging from workforce to senior residences, plus arts and entertainment facilities and retail. The old naval site’s massive hangar will be repurposed as a European-style food hall, with as many as a dozen restaurants and bars.

“At its core, this is about authenticity and a sense of place,” Elkus Manfredi chief executive officer and founding principal David P. Manfredi says. “People appreciate history. The hangar is an interesting and unique structure, and the volume of space it encloses is very cool. Hangar Square’s location is central and walkable to all the districts, and the hangar is the centerpiece of Hangar Square.”

Other areas include a sports complex with a miniature replica of the heart of Boston baseball, Fenway Park; a waterfront along a manmade lake; and the Discovery District, an area intended to attract technology research and development (R&D) and office tenants. The southern portion of the district includes the greenway, a linear park system that will serve as a pedestrian and cycling route. Its landscaping also will enable it to serve, subtly, as a stormwater management buffer.

“What is different at Union Point is a two-to-one ratio of open space to what is developed, an urban environment with access to nature in surrounding open spaces,” says Oscar Mertz III, a senior associate at Elkus Manfredi. “There is an existing open-space network because a buffer of wetlands was part of the navy base. It is a wonderful resource. We will link to it and weave open spaces inside Union Point to it. It will be both urban and natural—the best of both.”

“We do a lot of military base reuse planning, and it’s not like going out and getting 1,500 acres [600 ha] of virgin farmland,” explains Fred Merrill, a principal at Sasaki. “This had infrastructure, which makes it a design challenge. But that also makes it fun, deciding what you want to reuse and what you want to keep.”

Designing for Technological Evolution

Just as Union Point intertwines urban space with nature, smart technology and sustainability features will be deployed throughout, ranging from rooftop solar installations and storage batteries to smart sewer systems designed to recycle graywater, and streetlights that collect and transmit data.

“I think what differentiates Union Point, its special sauce, is the idea of embedding 21st-century, cutting-edge technology into the entire community, from monitoring how cars come and go to renewable energy,” Merrill says.

“I think one of the wise things we did was to bring in GE at the beginning, and let them have a seat at the table for every step,” Kavanaugh says. GE even consults on matters such as how big to make the conduits for fiber optics and other technology that will lie beneath Union Point’s streets, he notes.

In addition, Union Point’s operations managers will be able to analyze data from the vast array of sensors embedded in the landscape, such as streetlights that help measure traffic flow as well as provide light. They will use apps that run on Predix, GE’s cloud-based industrial internet platform. (According to a company news release, a similar system already is running in San Diego, where that city uses it to help motorists find parking spaces quickly, which, in turn, reduces vehicle emissions from engine idling and driving around.)

In addition, GE is working on how best to store solar energy collected at Union Point and looking at how to monitor energy use across multiple buildings so that it is possible to understand how they affect one another.

“There’s a core philosophy for this project,” says Justin Sullivan, commercial leader in distributed energy solutions for GE Power.

“You can integrate the best-in-class technology into the long-term planning and get outcomes that you wouldn’t get in an incremental build. If it’s done well, there’s an efficiency in terms of sustainability that you wouldn’t have in a typical urban environment,” Sullivan says.

LStar has brought in a third design firm, Arup, to work on strategies for issues such as mobility, water, and energy. Cameron Thomson, a New York–based associate principal at Arup, says that Union Point’s energy system is being designed to evolve over time. As new technologies may emerge, carbon taxes someday may be instituted as well, making it possible to evolve toward a greater reliance on renewable energy. In the short term, heating and cooling will be based on cogeneration that is powered by natural gas. “Eventually, we’ll transition to purely electric, and we’ll get rid of the gas boilers and go to heat pumps,” he says.

Union Point also is being designed for a transportation future in which roads increasingly will be used by cyclists, pedestrians, and robotic vehicles. “We are taking an aggressive approach to driving down parking ratios and building a more flexible, shared parking supply so that we can meet needs as they evolve,” Mertz says. “All of this involves the development of alternative transportation solutions and other forms of public transit.”

Autonomous vehicle technology startup Optimus Ride is already testing all-electric shuttles equipped with its software and hardware in Union Point’s existing residential sections, with human operators riding along to monitor vehicle performance. Ryan Chin, the company’s cofounder and chief executive, explains that Optimus Ride’s vehicles, which travel routes at speeds of 15 to 25 miles (24 to 40 km) per hour, can operate in a mixed road environment without dedicated lanes.

Though he is not able to disclose the timetable for buildout, Chin says that Optimus plans to expand its fleet to provide rides throughout Union Point. “Our goal is to provide first-and-last mobility for those who live and work at Union Point to the South Weymouth commuter station as well as inner campus mobility,” he says.

LStar is betting on Union Point’s role as a proving ground to attract technology companies that will try out their products and perhaps decide to locate there as well, Kavanaugh says. But the company is also aiming to create a community that is more than just a homogeneous, upscale tech enclave. To link Union Point visually and symbolically with its past, Kavanaugh plans to install a replica of the aircraft that flew from the base as a monument near one of the site’s entrances. He envisions housing units set aside for veterans.

Kavanaugh also wants to make Union Point a welcoming place for people with disabilities. In addition to incorporating accessible housing, “We’re working on the commercial side with nonprofits to provide employment opportunities in the retail spaces,” he says. “We’re trying to create as much diversity as we can.”

As that vision plays out, Union Point could provide a unique opportunity for both technological and social experimentation. As Sasaki’s Merrill notes, “It is hard to find a large place like this where you have a tabula rasa and can rethink it all from the ground up. That’s what will differentiate Union Point.”

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Patrick J. Kiger

Quelle/Source: Urban Land, 28.09.2018

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