Davis Square Planning Process

Last summer, we began discussions on the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Davis Square plan while we continued to hear feedback from the public, including about portions we know we could address better. Over the past two years, we also saw the public realm change and adapt to the needs of residents and businesses throughout the different stages of the pandemic. We want to expand on what we have learned over this time to provide an improved plan for quality civic spaces, outdoor dining and vending, pedestrian and bike safety, expanded wayfinding opportunities, and public realm maintenance that will support.

We are now rethinking our plan elements and recommendations related to street design, open streets, and placemaking features that will be necessary to support our small business owners and use our public realm more effectively. To that end, we have narrowed the focus of the Davis Square Plan to the core business area and changed the title from Davis Square Neighborhood Plan to Davis Square Commercial Area Plan. We are excited about this renewed initiative and eager for our community to be part of it. This process will be shared in our SomerVoice page. This page is primarily an archive.

History of Davis Square Planning

The Davis Square planning process started in 2013 with a crowdsourcing, visioning session, and three-day charrette. We got some great ideas from that process that we’re carrying forward into our future work with the neighborhood. In 2015, we got the opportunity to work with Gehl Architects to document the public space and life in Somerville. Several spots in Davis Square were surveyed. People LOVE Davis Square (I think we already knew that) and want to see the public realm improved upon. The work culminated in the Public Space Public Life Report. Using that report and methodology we were able to install movable chairs in Kenney Park – it increased Kenney’s stickness (if you don’t get it, read the report)!

In 2016, we brought Gehl back to work in Davis Square on a public realm pilot. In June we shut down the slip lane (that’s a technical term but it’s the turn lane to go from Highland to Elm Street) in front of Mike’s and chair bombed Seven Hills Park with red Adirondack chairs. We collected data and were able to compare it with the 2015 data. In 2015, 11.64 people on average were experiencing the park in a 10 minute period. After the install of the chairs, 21.16 people were experiencing the park over a 10 minute period. Giving people the opportunity to sit and the ability to move their chair to where they find comfort paid off in Seven Hills.

In the Spring of 2017, we held a series of four meetings discussing the character of Davis Square. The presentations covered place types, development possibilities, and discussions on what is unique about the aesthetics of the square. As part of this process, we did a tour of the area with attendees, which included highlighting specific storefront and architectural elements for participants to photograph (such as columns and door arches).  This exercise gave attendees an opportunity to notice easy to miss details and provided us with an image library of unique Davis Square elements that we incorporated into the neighborhood plan.

In the Fall of 2017, we held two additional round-robin style neighborhood meetings. On the first, we were able to document the attendee’s most pressing concerns for the present and future of the square through interactive exercises and passionate discussions. We expanded on what we learned in the second meeting’s presentation, followed by an exercise were participants collaborated to come up with specific actions that would address their concerns about the square through both the neighborhood plan and direct community involvement.

In the Winter of 2017, we came back to the community with drawings and models of what real new developments could look like in the square based on everything we had learned thus far. Attendees had an opportunity to look through examples based on multiple sites, with different options for building heights (most ranging from 4 to 6 stories tall) and styles. They then voted on which they liked best, and provided us with additional written comments. While those developments would go through a separate process of community feedback if they are carried out in the future, this exercise allowed us to create a template of what the community is most likely to be comfortable with and incorporate it into the neighborhood plan.

In the Summer of 2018, we held an additional meeting to review the plan draft and follow up on feedback we had received from residents.


Data Sets

Streetscape Design Process

The Transportation and Infrastructure division undertook a planning process for a new streetscape in 2012-2013. These served as inputs for the neighborhood planning process. However, no major construction is planned at this time. There will be more community process prior to any final streetscape designs.

Planning History


Davis Square Planning Mailing List



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