The Greening of Southie

In the traditionally Irish-American working-class neighborhood of South Boston, MA, a new kind of building has taken shape. From wheatboard cabinetry to recycled steel, bamboo flooring to dual-flush toilets, the Macallen building is something different: a leader in the emerging field of environmentally friendly design.

But Boston's steel-toed union workers aren't sure they like it. And when things on the building start to go wrong, the young developer has to keep the project from unraveling.

Building Boston's first LEED Gold-certified building turns out to be harder than anyone thought. Yet among the I-beams and brickwork emerges a small cadre of unlikely environmentalists who come to connect their work with the future of their children and the future of our cities.

'This inspiring film...argues for widespread adoption of green building practices, while still presenting the contradictions and quandaries...and revels in the greening of southern Boston's construction workers, born skeptics who rise to the occasion.' True/False Film Fest Program

'If the idea of watching a documentary on the construction of a condo building doesn't sound too exciting to you, I cannot recommend this film enough to anyone who is or wants to be a part of green building. It presents the challenges and excitement of building green with equal measures of idealism and cynicism, juxtaposing the suits who see the project as ideas and paper with the laborers who actually have to put the building together. As the project grows, the two come closer to understanding the other side.' Joel Bittle,

'A balanced but incisive look at a complex issue that affects us all.' Bostonist

'Like the community it portrays, The Greening of Southie is both gritty and engaging. Not so long ago, the only thing green about South Boston was its proud Irish-American population, with barely a street tree or patch of grass visible among Southie's rowhouses and storefronts. Greening shows the human side of the green building story, the homely hopes, fears and frustrations behind the fancy facades and sleek solar panels that many of us, especially in Southie, associate with sustainability. Ultimately, Greening tells the story of change and of one neighborhood's tentative, if ineluctable, step toward the future.' William Shutkin, Chair in Sustainability, University of Colorado Boulder Leeds School of Business, Author, The Land That Could Be: Environmentalism and Democracy in the Twenty First Century

'Cities such as LA and San Francisco are vying to be the 'greenest' big city in California. But what does it take to 'embrace green'?...The challenges of building green involve more than changing the practices of the building industry; they also include important social and political issues regarding who gets to live in our downtown neighborhoods. Interviews around the neighborhood show this broader context of urban redevelopment. This thoughtful and thought provoking film deserves to be seen widely.' Greg Andranovich, Professor of Political Science, California State University, Los Angeles

'An insider's perspective...The film does not skirt the issues of economics or the social impact of gentrification in this rapidly changing community. For individuals with an interest in green building, Greening of Southie provides a primer on the LEED certification process as well as a social commentary on this growing trend in construction.' Hilary Nixon, Assistant Professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, San Jose State University

'For laypeople and students, The Greening of Southie unlocks the mysteries of what constitutes LEED certification. More importantly, the film also analyzes both the benefits and the hidden contradictions of the LEED program. To their credit, the filmmakers do so objectively, letting the key players in the construction of Boston's first 'green' building speak for themselves. The film thus humanizes the construction story through rich portraits of certain project developers, architects, construction workers and potential tenants. In so doing, it uniquely addresses the myriad (and also often hidden) social implications of today's 'green wave', including class inequality and conflict, urban gentrification and the costs of even environmentally conscious consumerism.' Melissa Checker, Assistant Professor of Urban Studies, Queens College, Author, Polluted Promises: Environmental Racism and the Search for Justice in a Southern Town

'It is easy to see why this unique documentary has received so many awards and it is a wonderful primer on 'building green' for general audiences as well as classroom use. Highly recommended for high-school, college, and public libraries.' Barbara Butler, University of Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, Educational Media Reviews Online

'An engaging documentary that offers an exciting glimpse into the future of Earth-friendly construction...Literally a globetrotting affair that forcuses on the materials and personnel involved in the design and construction of the Macallen building...Recommended.' Video Librarian, voted Video Librarian's Best Documentaries of the Year 2009 List

'A new film about green jobs that deserves the widest possible audience...Is particularly remarkable as a film about environmental issues that deals directly and honestly with class as well...As President Obama promises to make creation of green jobs a major priority, The Greening of Southie is an entertaining and provocative tool for staring discussion in almost any setting.' Matt Witt, World Wide Work

'Recommended for those interested in the environmental aspects of city planning.' Library Journal

'Veteran contractors and construction workers skeptically grapple with the challenges of eco-friendly building, while residents overcome their own resistance to the development. Creative...compelling.' Yes! Magazine

'The documentary pulls no punches, and confronts head-on the sometimes hypocritical guidelines of environmentalism. Honest and yet always conscious of the nature of the relatively new Green Design frontier, this film weaves a narrative that makes you feel like you've witnessed the ups and downs of a beloved character growing up before your eyes. It is a great look at a pioneering event for those familiar with sustainable design as well as those who don't recycle. Yet.' Erin Duplessis,

'Creative cinematography...compelling.' Yes! Magazine


Main credits

Ellis, Curt (film producer)
Cheney, Ian (film director)

Other credits

Director of photography, Taylor Gentry; edited by Ian Cheney; music by Force Theory.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

American Studies
Green Building
Labor and Work Issues
Renewable Energy
Science, Technology, Society
Urban Studies
Urban and Regional Planning
Vocational Education


Macallen building, Boston, green building, LEED certified, Irish-American, South Boston, wheatboard cabinetry, recycled steel, bamboo floors,; dual-flush toilets, environmentally friendly design, environmentalists, Timothy Pappas; "The Greening of Southie"; Bullfrog Films

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