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Atypical Ideas for Carbon Neutrality



What atypical, innovative ideas can turn Somerville, MA into a carbon-neutral city?
Submit proposals:
Rules: All entrants must agree to the 2015 Contest Rules. and Terms of Use.
Deadline: Saturday, June 13, 11:59 PM Eastern Time
Judging Criteria & Prizes: See below.


In 2014, Mayor Joe Curtatone set the goal for Somerville to be a carbon neutral city by 2050.  As governments around the world take action to protect their cities from the effects of climate change, we believe it is critically important for cities to reduce the severity of those impacts while there is still time.  Somerville seeks to lead by example, demonstrating to cities around the world that carbon neutrality is possible, imperative, and a catalyst for social and economic growth. 

With a population of 77,000+ residents in 4.2 square miles, Somerville is the most densely populated city in New England, located just two miles north of downtown Boston and bordered by the Mystic River and Alewife brook, and by the cities of Cambridge, Boston, Medford, Everett, and Arlington.  Somerville’s size and geography offer a busy urban environment within a small space.  Learn more about Somerville here.

Click here to view the recording from the Q&A session on April 7th


Key Issues

Somerville is not scared of innovation.  As Mayor Joe Curtatone has stated countless times, part of our community’s DNA is the constant pursuit of innovative ways to make Somerville a great place to live, work, play, and raise a family.  As demonstrated in the thriving creative and innovation sectors in our city, and in City programs such as Shape Up Somerville and Somerville Green Tech, we are a community that embraces new, unusual, unexpected ways of thinking. 

Somerville is beginning a planning process to develop a roadmap to carbon neutrality.  As part of our planning process, we want to incorporate the atypical ideas, big and small, that drive down energy usage and make carbon neutral cities a reality.  We anticipate that the top ideas will be incorporated into the city’s planning process as strategies, actions, and projects: community members and stakeholders will discuss the top contest ideas during community meetings held during the creation of a climate change plan for Somerville.  As a result of this plan, the community and City will give serious consideration to implementing the top idea.  

The City of Somerville, which is staffing the contest, encourages Somerville residents to participate in the contest as proposal submitters and commenters.  City residents and stakeholders are invited to provide input and information that will improve proposals.   

Judging Criteria

Proposals should be specific to Somerville.  That said, we realize that some of the most ambitious ideas require fundamental change in order to become reality.  Proposals should identify the conditions that must change (e.g., state utility solar rate caps) in order for the proposal to function. 

No hum-drum ideas!  An “atypical idea”? challenges the standard way of thinking””it is innovative, outside-they-box, and surprising.  We are looking for ideas from points of view across the globe.  Proposals may be based on proven methods, but they should clearly identify the aspects that will be new in/for Somerville.  Common sense can be innovative too””are there simple ideas that cities often overlook?

We are looking for proposals that:

Types of proposals

Proposals are not limited to actions to be taken by city government.  We welcome ideas for all stakeholders, including residents, business owners, institutions, and state and federal agencies.

We define carbon neutrality as a net-zero release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by the built and natural ecosystem within Somerville’s borders.  Planning a path to carbon neutrality will be complicated, and we recognize that it will require many interconnected strategies.  We expect the typical proposal for this contest will represent one of these strategies””not an overall scheme for citywide carbon neutrality. 

Proposals must provide estimates for energy usage/carbon emissions reductions, and, preferably, the method for tracking effectiveness.   Proposals should identify carbon emissions reductions comparable to existing systems, or carbon emissions that are absorbed or offset. 

Though not required, cost estimates are beneficial. 

Creativity is hard to measure. Evaluation criteria can be restricting.  In the spirit of embracing innovative ideas, big and small, we will ask the following questions when judging proposals:


The winning idea will receive technical advice on implementation from the Contest judges and industry leaders, in an in-person or online working session facilitated by the City and Greentown Labs. 

Recognition for top ideas in categories such as:

We want to shine a spotlight on your innovative ideas.  We will be recognizing winners at a ceremony in Somerville featuring leaders in the City and tech industry. 

In addition, Judges Choice and Popular Choice winners will receive a special invitation to attend selected sessions at MIT’s SOLVE conference and present their proposals before key constituents in a workshop the next day, where a $10,000 Grand Prize will be awarded. A few select Climate CoLab winners will join distinguished SOLVE attendees in a highly collaborative problem-solving session.

Resources for Proposal Authors

As a City, we pride ourselves on using data to make policy and planning decisions.  This section contains statistics and information to keep in mind when developing proposals for Somerville. 

Somerville community: Please share links to data that the CoLab community will find useful!


Somerville municipal properties include offices, classrooms, vacant buildings, and green space.  Somerville has nine active school buildings.  Our green spaces include parks in a variety of sizes and that serve a variety of purposes, including passive recreation, athletic fields, playgrounds, and dog parks



There are 33,720 housing units in Somerville.  Somerville’s residential housing stock consists of the following building types:

Age of Somerville housing stock (the percentage of housing units built in a particular period):

The median cost of a single family home is $412,500. Median condominium sale price is $383.000. Median advertised rent for 3-bedreoom apartment is $2,500. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the price of housing is rapidly increasing in Somerville.

34.5% of housing units are owner-occupied, and 65.5% of units are renter-occupied.


Energy Usage

Somerville residents and businesses receive electricity through NSTAR and natural gas through either NSTAR or National Grid.  NSTAR and National Grid are primarily energy distributors.  ISO New England provides information on generation mix in the region. 

Type of house heating fuel:

Electricity usage:

  Residential Commercial Total

 # of Customers

Sales (kWh)

# of Customers

Sales (kWh)        

# of Customers

Sales (kWh)


















Data and Plans


Photo credit:  Jonas Kahn