Tag Archives: resources

Building a Shop Local Movement for Somerville Designers

Design Annex launches biz.buzz, a new kind of networking event for design professionals in Somerville on July 28. At biz.buzz, we’re building a shop local movement for Somerville’s creative enterprises. Participants won’t just exchange their contact information; they’ll trade advice, referrals, and services to make each other’s businesses stronger. This event is the first of a quarterly series to bring together the city’s vibrant design community to grow this dynamic industry.

  • Join us for biz.buzz: Thursday, July 28, 6-9 pm at Precinct. Free.
  • RSVP and don’t forget to bring your business cards!

While you likely know the big design players in Somerville such as Arrowstreet, Moshe Safdie and Altitude, you may not know the literally hundreds of smaller scale creative businesses bustling here in Somerville and making their own bold mark. The Design Annex’s goal is to interconnect this community of people working at the intersection of commercial and creative and through the shared connections to thrive together. Somerville has been a quiet hub design and creative businesses and it’s time we made some noise, locally and nationally.

This event supports Union Square Main Streets’ efforts, through the Design Annex, to grow the creative economy in Somerville. The Design Annex provides the resources to grow creative businesses including shared office space and equipment, networking, and advocacy for industry needs. Since its founding just 18 months ago, 25 small creative businesses have used the Annex’s resources and community to help grow their enterprises.

The networking series biz.buzz is our first big step towards accomplishing our goal of a tightly networked, strong design community in Somerville. Please join us and other creative business professionals to relax, share ideas, and share some drinks on Thursday, July 28, 6-9 pm at Precinct. RSVP to info@dannex.org, and don’t forget to bring your business cards!

Share the flyer for the event.

You Can Get There from Here (by Bike and Foot)

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council has a new map that brings together all the cycling and walking trails in the region, making it easy to find a new place to explore or to chart your course around the region.

Check it the on-line version: http://trailmap.mapc.org/

Or download the pdf version.

Understanding the Livability of Union Square in Regional Context

The Boston Region MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) has a new Livability Program and the data rich program website has lots of info worth exploring.  It has workshop opportunities, resource list and some easy to see map based information on the current livability in the region’s communities.

There is no precise definition of livability, but there are indicators of it. How many people in your municipality walk or bicycle to work? How many crashes involve bicyclists and pedestrians? What is the proportion of jobs to people? These indicators and many others help in assessing the conditions in a community that are associated with its level of livability. In the Livability Indicators Database check out how Somerville rates as a livable place.

The website’s information on resources are organized according to livability topic.

  • Walking and bicycling
  • Transit
  • Parking
  • Land use/urban design
  • Housing
  • Public health
  • Economic development
  • Energy/environment



More information on the Livability Program is on the website. Please note that the Bicycle/Pedestrian webpages formerly found elsewhere on the MPO’s website have been folded into the “Resources – Walking and Bicycling” section of the livability website.

If you have any questions about the Livability Program, please contact Cathy Buckley or Sean Pfalzer at (617) 973-7107 or livable@bostonmpo.org.



Understanding Land Pooling for Union Square

Have you ever seen the parcel map for the City of Somerville? They’re on this map of the southeast section of Union Square, appearing as the light gray lines. The patterns here are even more complex than the streets that crisscross and curve around through our city. Like the roadways, the parcels tell a story of the development of Union Square, with larger pieces carved out as Union Square was growing fast at the turn of the 20th century for churches, factories.  Smaller parcels were for homes.  Like Bow Street that developed its swing to avoid a marsh that’s long gone, the  stories behind many of the shapes on the parcel maps are lost.  In some places you’ll see the parcel lines splitting right through a building — those are shown in pink.  Some parcels are tiny, looking to be only 10 feet wide.  Others are locked in, with no access to the street.

These parcels are held by a patchwork of owners, some by the same family for generations. Others, like the Kiley Barrel site, SCAT Building and Public Safety Building, all shown here in blue, are controlled by the city.

One the big challenges for the development of Union Square is along Prospect Street.   That area has a long legacy of industrial uses that have polluted the land. The old Millers River that once existed in Union Square was long ago filled in but it continues to flow underground. That buried tidal flow of the water unfortunately sloshes around the contaminants, ignoring those parcel lines.  Cleaning up that damage means not just addressing one piece but the extended area all at once.

The Greenline is coming to Prospect Street, with the MBTA stop planned for under the bridge at the bottom of the map.  That transit access provides one of the great opportunities along the whole corridor for Somerville to maximize the impact of the Greenline with new housing and offices.  The costs to clean up that area are going to be significant, so the development has to be large enough to absorb the expense.   The land cost, valuable because of the transit, is going to be higher than other areas, so density in the building will also need to increase. Any new development along this corridor is going to be of a bigger scale than exists within those tiny parcels currently outlined on the parcel map.

But how to do a larger scale development in a patchwork of tiny parcels?

For the past few decades The City of Somerville has taken one approach to the challenge — buying and holding parcels. The City’s gathered over time a modest cluster of them on the corner of Prospect and Somerville Avenue where the old Kiley Barrel business used to be. But properties in this area of Union Square rarely come up for sale.

The City could choose to use eminent domain to redevelop the area, seizing the parcels from the current owners.  Since  Somerville doesn’t have the expertise or money to develop the area itself, as has happened in other communities, the most likely scenario is Somerville would lease or sell the captured land to a private developer to create housing, offices, public parking, and/or open space.

But shouldn’t the people who own the land now, many who have seen Union Square through its ups and downs for a half century or more, be able to reap the benefits for the future?  Is there another option besides eminent domain that could break the stalemate, that could make the property owners into partners?

Land pooling might provide a solution.

Land pooling is a tool actively used in other parts of the world but new to the U.S. Roughly, it allows the current property owners to continue hold an ownership stake in the area but in a different way.  In some communities, the properties are re-aligned, with the owners getting a piece of land back in return for their original parcel, roughly proximate and proportionate to the original site.  A small piece of each parcel is taken in the process to provide for common use — either to create space for  parks or roadways, or to be used as a means for financing the project as a whole.

Along Prospect Street, where even when realigned the parcels are mostly too small for financially viable redevelopment, a more likely scenario is the property owners would own a share through a commonly-held new development.

There’s big advantages to land pooling. It enables the property owners to remain as active members in the renewal of Union Square and to profit from their own land.   It enables the neighborhood to clean up these polluted areas, the City to finance the project, and the community to redevelop an area for economic development and public transit.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council recently hosted an event for their member communities in eastern Massachusetts to learn more about this tool. You can see the slide show from this presentation on line. (That slideshow not opening right for you?  Try this other one.)

Funding Opportunity for Massachusetts Artists: Application Deadline April 21, 2011

From the Somerville Arts Council’s listserv:

Assets for Artists, a collaborative program aimed at helping artists and performers in all disciplines throughout Massachusetts who wish to strengthen their creative businesses or become home-owners,  is inviting new applications for 2011. The program is led by MASS MoCA, in partnership with the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network and local partners, with lead funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Grants of up to $4,000 for first-time home buyers and $1,500 for those making business-related investments will be available for “low- to moderate-income” artists (all disciplines encouraged to apply). The program provides financial support through individual development accounts, an innovative financial tool that provides a grant “match” for the participant’s own savings deposits over a period of 6 – 30 months. Free training on personal finance and small business management for artists is a required component. Bonus matching funds of $1,000 will be available to a select number of participants who opt to pursue a $500 online crowdfunding campaign to help fund their bonus match.

Go to www.AssetsForArtists.org to learn more about eligibility and to download the pre-application form, due Thursday, April 21, 2011. There’s no cost to apply.

A profile of the Assets for Artists program was printed in Berkshire Trade & Commerce newspaper and may be downloaded here. (pdf format).

If you have any questions about the pre-application process or the program in general, contact Blair Benjamin at MASS MoCA (413-664-4481 x8104 or assets4artists@gmail.com).

Put a Limit on Chain Businesses?

When Union Square really comes into its own, and as Davis Square continues to develop, should Somerville establish regulations that limit corporate chains?

A number of communities are doing just that.  The Town of Concord is on the way for the West Concord Village to remain local and independent.

The positive community impacts for supporting locally owned, independent businesses are significant.  Dollars spent in local businesses stay in the community, continuing to circulate.  We’ve been lucky enough that all of the new businesses launched since USMS began  in 2005 are locally owned, with the great majority of them owned by people who live right here in Union Square.   These businesses have developed the unique character and the vibrant village-like life here in Union Square.  As our work continues, though, we’re likely to draw the attention of bigger, outside investors and corporate developers with connections to retail and restaurant chains.

Working with locally owned, independent businesses can be a challenge. They’re typically less well financed and they’re riskier. From an expediency stand-point,  it’s less attractive to commercial property owners to spend the time recruiting and managing a whole gaggle of independent business owners, many of whom are seeking concessions to launch their fledging effort.  In the long run, however, locally owned businesses bring a sense of character and place, something that no money can buy. For independent business owners, their storefront is their livelihood, not just one of hundreds or even thousands of sites, and they’re committed to making their particular corner work.  How much more love, personal attention and commitment do think Union Square gets from, say, Cantina La Mexicana, than we would if the location was a Taco Bell?

Some people are concerned about regulations that might limit free enterprise.   One concern that’s particularly relevant for Unio Square is that franchises are a means for novice business owners to launch a business and to secure the support and training they need to be successful; this is particularly attractive for immigrants unfamiliar with the regulatory system in the US. We did see one formula business open here since the launch of Union Square Main Streets, the Subway restaurant on the plaza.  The business owner lives in Somerville and Laxmi Pradham parlayed his investment and education into a new business, a restaurant  in Teele Square that isn’t a franchise. The sit-down restaurant will feature authentic Nepalese food and opens spring 2011.

Another concern is that larger retailers typically serve as “anchors” for a business district, drawing in customers who then visit other nearby shops, serving to improve the area as a whole.  One example of this happening was the improvement in Magoun Square at the corner of Broadway and Medford Street when CVS opened there.  The new foot traffic saw the enlivening of Medford Street with several new restaurants opening up in the years following the pharmacy/convenience store opening.  This can be a double-edged sword.  Boston’s Downtown Crossing hasn’t recovered from the loss of Filene’s.

Finally, to meet local needs, for some business types there are few options.  Chains such as  CVS and Home Depot have so effectively taken control of the market that it is exceedly difficult to recruit independently-owned businesses selling similar goods.  When was the last time you saw a new hardware or pharmacy open that wasn’t owned a chain?

For Union Square, as we grow and attract new investment, these concerns might encourage us to limit, but not completely prohibit, corporate owned restaurants or retailers.

To learn more about regulations on restricting formula businesses, visiting New Rules Project.