The Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab (part of New Urban Mechanics) recently put out a “request for information” (or RFI) regarding housing with public assets–a public process intended to “allow the city to explore new ideas without committing resources to a particular concept.” Specifically, the City is interesting in improving its core city assets–libraries, fire stations, community centers, and municipal parking lots–to help address the housing crisis and make a dent in the goal of adding 53,000 new units of housing in Boston by 2030.
The City of Boston owns hundreds of parcels of land and hundreds of buildings that could play in a significant role in achieving this goal. Among these is the Taft Hill parking lot right in Roslindale Square. From our “Walkable Urban Place” perspective, the lot has several attractive features: it is literally yards away from our main street shopping district that would be enhanced by greater density of residents who would frequent the shops on foot, and the only location closer to the commuter rail station is the commuter rail lot itself. Moreover, we’d like to see more land dedicated to housing people and businesses, rather than serving as dead “free” car-storage all day. We are thus quite interested in helping lead dialogue with the city on this idea.
On the other hand, we’ve seen several smaller developments in recent years in and around Roslindale which have gradually increased population and density. While we’ve generally applauded this increase in housing supply, the inescapable fact is that the City has done far more on housing than on transportation, and unless we change course immediately, the lack of meaningful coordination between transportation and land use will take a real toll on livability and likely engender strident community opposition to any further development. In short, Boston can and should accommodate 100,000 new residents, but not 50,000 new cars.
To that end, we’ve sent the letter below to respond to the City’s RFI on developing the Taft Hill lot. The focus here is not any specific development proposal for the lot–a process which is still some a ways off, but rather an urgent call to arms to start putting the right sustainable transportation pieces in place now, so that when it comes time to evaluate specific development proposals, we will have some assurance that these will enhance the neighborhood’s walkability and vitality and not result in increased gridlock, pollution, and harm to the pedestrian environment.
If you share our concerns and our vision, be sure to reach out to all the officials listed below and let them know!
A couple of weeks back, a community meeting on a proposed 42-unit residential project at 43 Lochdale Road (off Washington Street, near Forest Hills) was postponed at the last minute. The meeting has just been rescheduled for Thursday, May 25, 2017, at 6:30pm at the Roslindale Community Center (6 Cummins Highway). You can take a look at the thoughts we shared back in April; in brief, while housing is desperately needed around Boston, especially near transit hubs like this location, we would very much like to see the developers of this project better consider walkability and transit access given the density and location of the project. More free parking necessarily means more cars and traffic; instead, we’d like to see investment in walking and bicycling infrastructure (as well as complementary amenities like Hubway and ZipCar), to make sure it is as easy as possible for residents to live car-free so close to the orange line. Please sure your thoughts in the comments here, and attend the community meeting on May 25!
UPDATE 4/18/17 2:30pm: we just received word that this meeting has been postponed. We’ll provide updated details on this blog as soon as we know the new date.
Just a reminder that the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services is holding a community meeting this Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 6:30pm at the Roslindale Community Center (6 Cummins Highway) regarding a proposed development at 874-878 South Street (near the intersection with Walter). Details:
874 South Street (Currently)
20 Taft Hill Rendering
We’ve discussed the proposed Taft Hill development several times here
and we support the project
. This afternoon, the proposal, which requires numerous zoning variances (among others, the project provides 1.0 rather than the required 2.0 parking spaces per unit), was heard by the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal
and unanimously approved. Several WalkUP Roslindale members spoke in favor of the project, as did representatives from the offices of the Mayor
, City Councillor Michelle Wu
, and City Councillor Tim McCarthy
. No one at the hearing opposed the project. We expect the developer to break ground this spring.
20 Taft Hill Rendering
Today, we sent another comment letter
on a proposed development in Roslindale Square. The project is a 19-unit condominium complex a few yards away from the commuter rail station and the business district. Because we believe this sort of transit-oriented development will contribute to a more walkable and vibrant neighborhood, and particularly in view of some of the developer’s creative pro-WalkUP proposal elements (dedicated bicycle storage, car-share service credits, and support for the Roslindale Arboretum Gateway Path initiative
), we generally support the project. There is still room for improvement, however, as detailed in our full comment letter below.
We hope many of you will agree with some if not all of the points made below. Either way, however, we’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.
Umbrella Not Causing Rain
Notable economics writer Matt Yglesias provides a pithy analysis of the relationship between housing prices and construction in his newsletter published today. Yglesias writes:
I observed on Twitter the other day that there’s a shockingly widespread belief that banning new construction will prevent increases in the price of housing, and that lead to some pushback that was more interesting than I’d anticipated and is worth addressing specifically.
Umbrellas don’t cause rain
But before getting into the specific points, I do think it’s worth focusing on the core fallacy that drives some of this. People look around and see that in neighborhoods where prices are going up, there’s generally highly visible new construction — cranes putting up largish buildings — and think the construction is driving neighborhood change.
This is a bit like thinking that umbrellas cause rain because every time you see everyone carrying them it rains.
Construction — especially of high-rise buildings — is expensive and people are only going to do it in places where demand is high and prices are on the rise. By the same token, brand-new construction commands a price premium so the just-built thing always targets a more upscale market than the average neighborhood resident. Your city’s stock of cheaper housing consists almost exclusively used to be new but aren’t anymore. But the presence of new expensive buildings isn’t making older buildings more expensive. It’s the fact that older buildings are getting more expensive that leads people to build new buildings.
Yglesias then goes on to explain why banning new projects won’t achieve the goal of preserving a neighborhood’s character or preventing gentrification and the rise in housing costs.
As we engage as a community to debate construction proposals in and around Roslindale, we would be well advised to keep this insight in mind.
WBUR reports today on a Metropolitan Area Planning Council presentation to state lawmakers on the dire need for housing supply to sustain the economy:
By 2040, Massachusetts will need about half a million additional residential units, analysts told lawmakers Tuesday as they advocated for increased housing production to go along with the state’s growing economy.
Metropolitan Area Planning Council assistant data services director Tim Reardon said most of this housing demand will be in urban areas, and two-thirds of it will be for multifamily housing, a type of development limited or discouraged in much of the state.
We recognize that development to accommodate new residents is often a controversial topic — in Roslindale and just about everywhere else in Greater Boston. Even where people recognize the crisis in general, they would much prefer that the solution happen somewhere else. But the need is there and the development will happen whether we like or not.
We do, however, have a critical choice to make: are we going to add another million cars to our already fully maxed out transportation infrastructure (2 cars per new housing unit) — another three or four million free parking spaces? An extra hour (or two) added to the car commute downtown from inner ring suburbs?
Or we can go in another direction, and build with a dedicated focus on pedestrian/bike/transit access, and enhance all those other modes of moving around so that people who prefer not to be stuck in a motor vehicle for hours a day aren’t forced to.
Development, walkability, and vibrant streets and communities all can go hand-and-hand. Rather than fight to stop every new project, we believe we should speak up to make every new project better for the community. We’re working on some development principles that we think will advance this goal, and hope our neighbors will join us in refining and then advancing those principles.