As a long-time resident of Jamaica Plain as well as an architect, I applaud Mayor Walsh’s intentions to spur construction of transit-oriented housing development in South Boston and Jamaica Plain. The creation of moderately-priced workforce housing is one of the most critical factors in Boston’s ability to build upon its current success to achieve sustainable, long-term growth and success. Workforce housing will help stabilize communities, grow the local economy, and enable current residents to remain in the city while also encouraging new residents. However, given the paucity of public housing funding from federal and state sources, private development is crucial to implementing this much needed housing. Private developers need city support in the form of transparent, predictable permitting.
Toward that end, it is time to use zoning as an instrument to support a sustainable future. Zoning regulations should not bind us simply to what currently exists, but should be aspirational: guiding the development of the city in which we want to live over the next 20 to 30 years and enabling development that improves, inspires and uplifts communities. The city already uses zoning as a tool to create more energy efficient buildings, but it could go further, encouraging carbon neutral, energy positive buildings. New zoning regulations should be developed using community planning process, to ensure truly democratic neighborhood involvement in planning our future.
Mayor Walsh is correct that the Orange Line Southwest Corridor holds great opportunity for additional development, but it is far from a wasteland today. Much of the scarring left by demolition for an ill-conceived highway planned through the city center has disappeared. Twenty-plus years of community organizing efforts in Lower Roxbury, Jackson Square and Forest Hills have engaged the public in visioning processes to re-imagine and re-design the future of their neighborhoods. That community engagement, despite fractiousness and suspicion of the city, has improved the projects already built and those planned. The fruits of these efforts are notable around Ruggles Station and Jackson Square, and will be near Forest Hills in 2015. The real key to transit-oriented development in Forest Hills is the 18-acre Arborway Yard, occupied by a temporary bus fueling station which is the black hole at the center of what should be a vibrant urban village.
With Mayor Walsh’s announcement of the city’s intention to focus development on South Boston and the Orange Line, the city has an opportunity to utilize a thoughtful planning approach that coordinates city planning and community organizing efforts. Economic Development Chief John Barros offers as much expertise as anyone in Boston to lead such an effort with BRA Director Brian Golden. In 2015, the Walsh administration can create a model of neighborhood-based city planning that shapes development to best meet the needs of Boston residents and businesses, meets the city’s housing and environmental goals, and sets the stage for a new approach to zoning. A big agenda, but readily accomplishable by building on existing efforts. It would demonstrate better than anything the Walsh administration’s reset of the BRA agenda and help ameliorate long-held neighborhood suspicion of the BRA.
-Gail Sullivan, Founder and Managing Principal, Studio G Architects
To read the corresponding Boston Globe article, please visit: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/12/10/mayor-walsh-names-brian-golden-permanent-bra-chief/SmrzEl4His6KYi1xzu5YzK/story.html