Union Square Design Charette: Day 2

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Many thanks to all the area residents, business owners, advocates, and elected officials who joined us yesterday, during the second day of public meetings and open studios. Staff from the City of Somerville Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development, alongside consulting designers, transportation experts, and representatives from the master developer US2 began the day at work stations, continuing to translate feedback from the past few months, and Day One of the Charrette, into design possibilities! The drawing continues, and the lobby of the old Post Office is full of sketches pinned up to view and comment on.

The day kicked off with a meeting with small business owners,  We focused on shoring up the cluster of businesses that create a “destination impact” in Union Square and how the City can facilitate the entrepreneurial spirit through creative policy, including short-term leases, pop-up permits, and space intended for flexible use.

We had a great conversation on Public Space with a terrific exchange of ideas. We began sharing our favorite spaces in Union Square, including the urban gardens tucked away behind CrossFit and park-lets that may need some TLC. Residents celebrated the historic grit and vibrant community presence that comes together in unique, sometimes odd, spaces.  There was consensus on the need for multi-use and un-programmed space.

The need for flexible space became a theme that continued during the mid-day meeting on Arts & Culture.  The design team heard folks describing a range of workspaces in use, and necessary for the arts community to thrive. Artists and members of the Art & Cultural commission helped articulate the details that make such space special, from sheer size and access to materials for specific crafts. We brainstormed ways the City can both help fund arts space and serve as a liaison between property owners and potential tenets.

The conversation shifted in the afternoon, with sessions on Housing and Affordability, Community Benefits Agreements, and Walk, Bike, Ride and Driving. We tackled big questions – what is affordable? How is it defined? How does that impact accessibility? How can new development help ameliorate the demand for affordable housing?

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In the session on Community Benefits Agreement, there was a robust dialogue around process and order of operations. Representatives from community organizations and the Community Advisory Committee offered a range of viewpoints on how to capture community priorities moving forward.

Finally, a number of transit (ok, mostly bike!) enthusiasts discussed plausible traffic patterns in a session that ran late into the night. Representatives from MassDOT discussed the new McGrath Boulevard and listened as resident commuters gave feedback on what works, and what they dream of for Union Square.

On Day 3 (Wednesday), our staff and designers will be feverishly working to produce another round of drawings based on public input over the course of the charrette.  Our “Pin-Up” presentation is scheduled for 7:30pm at the Old Post Office (237 Washington Street).  There will be a 45-minute presentation of all the ideas that were explored this week, and then a 45-minute gallery exhibit where attendees will be given survey forms and asked to tell us what we got right and what we got wrong.  That information will be used to make another round of refinements and edits over the next month!  Please help spread the word.  For folks who can’t make the Pin-Up event, it will be filmed and broadcast on City Cable / YouTube, and we will upload an electronic version of the survey as well.

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