The Greening of Southie opens at orientation for the Macallen Building construction crew, where seasoned workers gather to hear about the “green building” they are being asked to build. Boston’s union plumbers, carpenters and tile-workers want to know, “What’s the point?”
The Macallen development team is seeking a “LEED Gold” rating for their new building, an objective achieved by collecting points for various green technologies. The first points––local concrete and recycled steel––introduce us to Bob Gottlich, an ironworker who, to his surprise, enjoys the idea of working on a “recycled building.” Others are more skeptical, like Wayne Phillips, a Trinidadian laborer who shakes his head at the word “environment,” and Carrie Mowbray, a waste hauler who admits she “used to think of green as being dorky.”
The architects introduce us to the neighborhood––a notoriously insular community with a reputation for Irish mobs and a resistance to change. Change, however, is exactly what 33-year-old developer Tim Pappas has in mind. He hires the youngest consultants he can find. Macallen, as project manager Jason Burrell points out, will be the building that makes or breaks his team.
As the film unfolds and the building goes up, the story traces the building’s odd materials––wheat-board cabinets and selectively harvested wood––back to their sources on Midwestern farms or in Bolivian rainforests. Points keep accruing at the building site, as soil and succulents are hoisted onto the green roof, and fast-growing bamboo is installed on the floor.
Macallen, despite its location in working-class Southie, will be a luxury building, with condominiums running beyond $2 million. But Wayne, the skeptical laborer, has come to wish he “could live in the environmental building that we built.” Like most locals, he’s priced out, and the inaccessibility of green design gets a poignant critique.
Suddenly, things start to go wrong. The wheat-board cabinets swell, making installation of countertops impossible. The green roof plants die off, and need to be replanted. And the bamboo floors are buckling, separating from the concrete base and cupping visibly. The crew tears out 75 bamboo floors and re-orders from China.
Amidst concerns that the bamboo debacle is sending sawdust into the green ventilation system, the team’s quest for a “Gold” rating seems precarious. Owner Tim Pappas wonders whether all the energy consumed in bringing new wood from China was worth its global warming cost. A chorus of criticism emerges; the building’s once-touted materials may actually have increased the overall energy footprint of the project.
Redemption comes in the form of Wayne’s daughter Ashakie, who has asked her father for a tour of the building. As she marvels at all that has gone right with Macallen, new condo owner Bill Gleason loads his boxes into his unit, and reports on the building’s conservation strategies start to pour in. As the sun glints off the façade, Southie resident Joe Doherty considers the completed building from his stoop, shrugs, and sums up what most of the building crew seems to think: “we’ll see.”
Praise for The Greening Of Southie:
“A clear-eyed film… an examination of the hard work involved in going green.” – The Bostonist
“A balanced but incisive look at a complex issue that affects us all.” – Seattle Times
“Slick and well-presented.” – Seattle Weekly
“Makes the construction site look like a beautiful and mysterious place.” – Portland Tribune