Tag Archives: placemaking

MIT Grad Students Study a Union Square Gateway

From the City of Somerville:

Last year, students from MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning produced a plan with community input for the future of Winter Hill andMagoun Square neighborhood. We were able to get a great level of resident participation, and the final report included many creative ideas that are influencing our efforts in the neighborhood.

We again have the opportunity to have a group of future urban planners from MIT return to Somerville to provide a fresh look at a key neighborhood in City.

This fall, a team of graduate students will be working in partnership with City of Somerville on community and land use planning around the new Green Line Extension into Union Square. In particular, they are working on an area we call the Union Square Gateway. This is the area around Twin City Plaza, Pat’s Tow, Target and the eastern end of Boynton Yards. It is bordered by McGrath Highway and Brickbottom on one side, and the core of Union Square on the other.

Please join us for a presentation of initial findings on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at the Argenziano School (280 Washington Street) at 6:30 pm. The students will discuss issues and ideas including housing and business opportunities and strategies to create transit-oriented development around this neighborhood. They need your ideas and feedback!



Short Term Action, Long Term Change

From CNU New England: 

(USMS is a partner in this event)

Tactical Urbanism Salon Boston: This is a Test

Innovation District, Boston

Friday October 18, 2013 starting at 3 pm, and Saturday, October 19, 2013, Salon at District Hall is 9 am to 4 pm, Block Party starts at 4 pm.


This October 18 – 19, 2013 the New England Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism (“CNU New England”) will host a Boston Tactical Urbanism Salon with a number of partners from around the Boston region and the country. The concept behind Tactical Urbanism is to demonstrate the potential impact of short-term interventions in the built environment to create enduring change in the City. The purpose of the Tactical Urbanism Salon: Boston is to convene individuals and organizations from across the region who are already involved in similar initiatives (or the desire to pursue these strategies) to share their experiences, participate in hands-on demonstrations together, and to inspire similar activities across the Boston region. The event will also include a diverse lineup of speakers such as Mike Lydon, author of the Tactical Urbanism Handbook; Nicco Mele, author of The End of Big; and Mark Matel of Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation. To see the program, which is still under development, please visit the website listed below.

Livable Streets Looks at Gentrification

From Steve Miller on the Livable Streets blog:

A new effort has begun to bring improved transit and bicycle facilities to Roxbury, the base of Boston’s African-American community. (Full disclosure: On behalf of LivableStreets Alliance, I’m involved.) While most local people welcome the idea of more efficient bus routes, more comfortable bus stops, and protected bike lanes there has also been some opposition based on the fear that this invites gentrification.  It is similar to concerns about the larger impact of any improvement in a low-income area, from better parks to better food in local stores to better schools.

It feels like a no-win situation.  Public sector, taxpayer-funded investment is an essential foundation for livability in every neighborhood.  As much as anyone else, low-income people deserve good parks, lighting, schools, transit, roads, sidewalks, bicycle accommodations, and other public amenities.  But any significant improvements in a low-income neighborhood’s facilities, or investment in Smart Growth initiatives and Transit Oriented Design development, make the place more attractive to higher-income “pioneers” and then even higher-income “settlers.”  Rents and home prices increase.  The retail mix gets hipper and moves up-scale.  Even before any facility upgrading, the process may start with an influx of “transitional populations” – students, artists, gays – but it’s the public investment that preps the area for sale.  And then gentrification pushes out long-time families: think Jamaica Plain, Davis Square, Cambridge’s Area IV.

No wonder communities sometimes sound paranoid in opposing things that seem like no-brainers. While race and racism are always compounding factors, fear of displacement or simply of demographic change is not restricted to low-income or African-American communities – it underlies some of the nervousness about transit and bicycle improvements in middle-class white areas of Charlestown, Medford, and Arlington as well.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Improvements to the built and service environment can be balanced by policies and programs that preserve affordable and stable residential patterns.  It’s not that change won’t happen, but it can be tempered and guided in productive ways.

Continue reading.


Livable Streets Updates on McGrath De-Elevation

From Livable Streets
MassDOT has agreed that McGrath’s McCarthy Overpass over Washington Street will be removed! The hundreds of “Remove McGrath” postcards you signed, and your voice at the May 31 public meeting, made this victory possible.
But we’re not done fighting for all users of McGrath. Without continued pressure, the timeline for removal will slip. We are demanding commitments by MassDOT to remove the overpass by 2018, coinciding with the Green Line Extension completion.
Your continued voice and your support are needed to remove all of McGrath and replace it with a neighborhood-centered street that serves all of our communities and our region equitably. Highways and subways do not mix – if we want our transit investments, like the Green Line Extension, to be successful, all of McGrath must be removed. The McGrath Highway is an outdated road that severs our communities from the Charles River to the Mystic River.
Despite the plan to remove the McCarthy Overpass, MassDOT has decided that some areas of the span need immediate repairs. MassDOT is also finishing the Grounding McGrath Study. On Tuesday, July 17th, LivableStreets met with MassDOT, the City of Somerville, the Somerville elected delegation and the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP) to discuss the McCarthy Overpass repairs and insist that MassDOT include in the interim plans short-tern improvements for people to bike, walk, take transit and drive.


It’s time to take action! 
1. Thank them for agreeing to remove the overpass, and ask them to make commitment to remove by 2018.
2. Thank them for agreeing to interim improvements to make it easier and safer to bike, walk, take transit, and drive.

Let’s Welcome Food Trucks in Somerville

Food trucks are taking the nation by storm and the City of Somerville would be wise to embrace the movement. Mobile food vending — including trucks, vans, push carts and bicycles – is a large, growing trend expanding dining options, adding energy to the streets, and contributing to the economic vitality of the communities they frequent.
Today’s food trucks perfectly fit within three of key approaches of Union Square Main Streets’ asset-based strategy: growing the cluster of locally-owned, food-related businesses, encouraging greater pedestrian activity, and engaging low-impact, high results tools. The direction works just as well city-wide and here’s why:

Food trucks sell food — Somerville’s reputation is growing as a destination for dining and innovative businesses and mobile vendors can help us build upon this. Eateries are at the vanguard of emerging neighborhoods and a key component for every business district. From diners, ice cream parlors and pizzerias, to taquerias, bakeries, and barbeque joints, these small businesses crop up to serve the immediate neighborhood as well as the customers and employees of other nearby businesses. The health of a district’s eateries is a barometer of the area as a whole.

Food brings all of Somerville together — Cultural differences between disappear when sharing the perfect pasta, pad thai, or plantains, so for an eclectic community like Somerville this commonality around food is particularly desirable. While other immigrant-owned businesses might struggle for cross-over clientele, food businesses are able to support a wide, varied customer base. Immigrants are more likely to be entrepreneurs than those who are American born with food-related businesses preferred because the business skills are easily transferred, language ability isn’t as much of a priority, and they typically provide a number of flexible jobs for extended family.

Food trucks are business incubators – You might call food-based businesses a gateway to entrepreneurship. It’s not such a big leap from a sidewalk lemonade stand to popsicles sold from a bicycle-powered cart to a wholesale company distributing the pops nationwide. Like day care, salons, auto repair, the threshold to food businesses is relatively low and production and sales easily understood. For aspiring businesspeople, mobile vending provides the stepping stones for small, local, independently owned businesses to emerge without crippling financial risk. With commercial lending increasingly limited, this sort of micro enterprise is frequently all that’s realistic for new budding entrepreneurs.

Food trucks and brick-and-mortar businesses work well together – Just as temporary markets and festivals contribute to the economic vitality of the businesses nearby, food trucks can do that too, by drawing attention to an area and fostering pedestrian activity. Just about every business does better when it clusters with like-minded businesses. Car dealerships on Route One, night clubs on Landsdowne Street, boutiques and galleries on Newbury are all examples of thriving districts where like businesses have clustered and thrived by their proximity to one anther. Because they’ll be looking for opportunities, not competition, mobile food vendors seek out the cracks in the market where potential demand isn’t yet met by brick and mortar businesses. Options that I think could work well are late night grilled cheese sandwiches in Davis Square after the restaurant kitchens have closed, ice cream desserts in Union Square for diners looking to linger after their meals, sandwiches and drinks for teams and their fans during games at playing fields around town. Food trucks, with their grab-and-go fare, meet a different customer need than sit down restaurants, bars and cafes.

Mobile food businesses are Somerville businesses – Beloved Davis Square brick and mortar shops like Redbones and Kickass Cupcakes have joined the trend and are sporting their bright trucks in Boston and Cambridge. In Union Square, several mobile food vendors operate out of Kitchen Inc., including Culinary Cruisers and Concept Carts. Well-known Taza Chocolate and new kid Sweet Idea rely on mobile vending for marketing and retail sales. And the relationship goes the other way too as, with a welcome, mobile vendors have already demonstrated a willingness to grow and invest here. For example, 3 Little Figs and Q’s Nuts built their customer base in Somerville through their participation in the Winter Farmers Market at the Armory. Both have since opened permanent locations here with storefronts on Highland Avenue.

Lighter, quicker, cheaper – Small scale, temporary interventions can have a big impact on the vitality of a neighborhood, far beyond the modesty of their scope. Long term planning and major redevelopment have their place, but for quick results, to prove the case for investment, and to spark grassroots engagement, go the lighter, faster, cheaper route. The phrase, promoted by the Project for Public Spaces, speaks to the value of relatively low-cost efforts like farmers markets, pop-up stores, parklets, festivals, art installations, façade improvement projects, sidewalk planters, outdoor dining, and yes, food trucks to change perceptions and create neighborhood vitality. This isn’t just a feel-good project. The Union Square Farmers Market, open just four hours a week June through November, generates $1.5 million in economic impact. A study of the Somerville Arts Council’s ArtsUnion showed that their programming of festivals and markets generated $4.40 in economic impact for each dollar invested. Food trucks are a cheap, high impact way to foster economic activity in the city.

Think quality food — While they do still exist, today’s food trucks are not the maligned “roach coach” or the stereotypical ice cream truck reselling pre-packaged conventions. Because they’re small scale, mobile food vendors are becoming one place where you’ll find affordable, innovative food using seasonal, local ingredients. Check out some of the food truck festivals like the recent one at Dewey Square where I sampled healthy versions of American barbecue from BBQ Smith, the Vietnamese inspired of Bon Me serving up tempura fried fiddleheads (one of my seasonal favorites), and lip smacking grilled cheese from Roxy’s Grilled Cheese (favorites from the Food Network show Great Food Truck Race.) As part of the permitting process the City will be able to select the vendors that will be best serve our community.

Food vendors support other community building efforts – In Somerville, we’ve built an enthusiastic audiences for public space activities including a whole array of festivals and markets from ArtBeat to SomerStreets, Swirl & Slice to the Bizarre Bazaar, Honk to Fluff, even the newly opened Davis Flea. Food-based businesses are a part of each and every one these. Currently, there’s an awkward mechanism for mobile food businesses to participate in these events. A clear mobile food vendor ordinance would enable event producers to have a list of pre-approved vendors and would allow the City to protect public safety while limiting redundant bureaucratic systems.




Back in Angled Parking Experiment Now in Progress

Mark Chase of Livable Streets short a simple video documenting the changes on Bow Street before and after the installation of the new back-in angled parking. The goal was to make the road safer for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as to increase available on-street parking.

Opinion piece from Charlie Denison of the Somerville Bike Committee in the Somerville Patch.

How do you think it’s going?