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BOSTON-The American Institute of Architects brings its annual convention here this week for the first time in 16 years, with 25,000 members and 14,000 FOAs estimated for a three-day event beginning tomorrow at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. The conference is forecast to generate $30 million in economic gains, but an equally impressive dose of green is coming via the sustainability design movement now reaching a global fever pitch. The green platform will be widely promoted both inside and outside the convention hall, as evidenced by Mayor Thomas Menino’s plan to unveil Boston’s 10 “greenest” buildings this week at an event sponsored by AIA and the Boston Society of Architects.

“It’s a huge focus of the convention,” concurs Shepley Bulfinch principal Carole Wedge, whose own interest in environmental design dates to the 1970′s energy crisis. Against a backdrop of record gasoline prices and John McCain’s seismic shift this week on global warming, Wedge says sustainability will be a major element of the broader AIA 2008 theme, “We the People.” As the AIA’s largest chapter, BSA members are trumpeting the host community’s environmental progress, but where Boston stacks up against other major municipalities remains open to debate.

Wedge is among many impressed by the leadership of Menino and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, while BSA Executive Director Richard Fitzgerald says the Boston mayor was one of the first officials, nationally, to board the green bandwagon. “I give him a lot of credit,” Fitzgerald tells GlobeSt.com. Through Menino’s guidance, all major commercial real estate projects must be designed using green precepts, and Wedge says her feedback with colleagues is that many are coming to witness cutting-edge examples of sustainable construction in both Boston and Cambridge. By her group’s count, Boston has 20 LEED-certified buildings and another 46 in the pipeline. “Boston is looked to as a model,” says Wedge, who rates Chicago and San Francisco among its peers.

Architect Hubert Murray acknowledges gains made in Boston, but he puts the city behind others on the green scale. “I’d say we are definitely up there in the major leagues, but we are not a leader, yet,” Murray says in drawing an analogy to the level of the Boston Red Sox just before winning the baseball title in 2004. Not only does Murray maintain the United States, as a whole, is lagging other countries such as Germany and Spain, he considers New York City to be the dominant player in North America, thanks to a plan that he says permeates the green message to a grassroots level. Chicago; Portland, OR; and Seattle are also high on his list, but as with the reigning World Champion Red Sox, Murray says he believes Boston can ultimately matriculate to the top, citing Menino’s recent hiring of a German firm to develop fresh green initiatives citywide as a solid step forward. “We’re making the right moves,” he says. “We’re just not quite there yet.”

Fitzgerald puts Boston in the top four nationally as a green community, but prefers to look at the issue “not as a pennant race” but more as a movement that benefits all who participate. “I’m not sure who is ahead, except the people living in the big cities that are building green,” he says. The sheer size difference of New York makes it a major player, agrees Fitzgerald, but he notes that the AIA convention is one of five events this year in Boston that will focus on sustainability, including the BSA’s annual Build Boston and the USGBC’s annual Greenbuild convention. “It’s not just one week,” says Fitzgerald. “This is the summer of green in Boston.”

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