A fun and productive day for the City’s planning and design team today! Our gratitude to the 100+ residents, business owners, community organizations, and elected officials who took the time to drop in at the old Post Office. They worked alongside the team assembled from the City of Somerville Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development, consulting designers, transportation experts, and representatives from the master developer US2. Together we’re envision the future of Union Square!
The large, open space in the Post Office was divided into several different areas. An interactive exercise called the “Community Benefits Store” greeted folks as they arrived in the door. Each person was provided a stack of 20 chips valued at $5 each. Eight glass jars were labelled with different benefits, ranging from different types and quantities of public space, to workforce development programs, to subsidized commercial spaces, to different types of affordable housing. Come shop! We will be compiling totals and will feed the results back to everyone to inform our dialogue about benefits agreements going forward.
Our staff and design consultants were set up at work stations on one side of the post office, where they could collaborate among themselves along with residents dropping in. The trace paper started flying immediately, with different ideas being drawn in quick-sketch fashion based on what we heard from community members during the seven public meetings held between mid-December and the end of February. Each sketch idea might deal with a new public space, an intersection redesign, or a potential development scenario. These drawings were “pinned up” on 8-foot tall display boards for members of the public to view and comment on throughout the day.
A series of one-hour topical sessions kicked off at 11:30, with local property owners specifically invited in to share their perspectives. We considered successful examples in the region, around the country, and around the world where the mix of old and new comes together to create a vibrant downtown. A second session at 1pm provided an opportunity to dig into the creative “maker” economy of artisans, artists and craft manufacturers. A special shout out to students at Parts & Crafts who came to share their experience exploring the commercial spaces that have housed the program. The funky maker scene is at the heart of Somerville’s identity and everyone involved wants to nurture it and ensure it continues to thrive.
Our largest crowd of the day joined us at 5pm for a focused discussion on the D2 and D3 development blocks that frame the Union Square Green Line station site along Prospect Street and Webster Avenue. City Planning Director George Proakis walked folks through some of the feedback we received in January and February, and described some of the challenges that the sites represent from an urban design standpoint.
At 6:30pm the City’s fiscal impact consultant Carson Bise led a session on job creation and the future of Boynton Yards. Ensuring that new development yields significant fiscal benefits has been a theme of the community process so far. Carson walked attendees through the different methods available to assess fiscal impact, and described his work so far interviewing City officials to start to build an analytical model that we will use to evaluate different development scenarios during the charrette and during the month afterward.
Our final session of the day was titled “Change Management and Gentrification”. City planner Dan Bartman facilitated a discussion of Somerville’s challenges in preserving what is great about our community, and how we are similar to (and different from) other cities that have experienced different types of gentrification and displacement processes.
Join us today, as the second day of the charrette begins. During the day, we’re meeting with small business owners, discussing public space, and arts and culture. This evening will offer sessions on housing, the Boynton Yards, and transportation in the Square. Designs that grew out of yesterday’s conversations are pinned up for all to see – we welcome your thoughts and feedback!