‘Somerville by Design,’ city seeks community input

On October 16, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Initiative to launch with event at Armory on October 17

Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone announced  the kickoff of a new initiative to implement the urban design and land use goals of the City’s SomerVision Comprehensive Plan. The program, called “Somerville by Design,” will officially launch with an event at the Center for Arts at the Armory on Wednesday, October 17.

The event will run from 6:30 – 8:30pm, and will feature exercises and activities to help community members explore their vision for the future of the neighborhoods around Ball Square, Lowell Street/Magoun Square and Gilman Square Green Line stations. Somerville by Design will include the development of design-based Neighborhood Plans for future Green Line station areas and help shape a planned update of the City’s zoning ordinance Neighborhood plans will allow members of the community to visualize a future in which a completed Green Line Extension serves the needs of thriving, stable, walkable neighborhoods. The initiative will help implement SomerVision goals to conserve the character of our existing residential areas while also ensuring context-sensitive growth around new Green Line transit stations. SomerVision and Somerville by Design are results of funding through a Challenge Grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Program.

“In 2011, Somerville became the only city in Massachusetts to receive funding under the Obama administration’s groundbreaking Sustainable Communities grant program. The President’s initiative breaks down bureaucratic barriers between the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency, and invests in cities that take a holistic, inclusive approach to growing the economy, modernizing transportation infrastructure, and improving the environment,” said Mayor Curtatone. “It’s no surprise that Somerville would be recognized as a model for urban policy, and as a sound investment of federal resources.”

In the first phase of Somerville by Design, the City will lead a cutting-edge public engagement process around three MBTA Green Line stations and the neighborhoods that will be served by this new transit investment. The initiative will begin with a series of urban design workshops to develop Neighborhood Plans in Ball Square, Gilman Square, and the Lowell Street/Magoun Square neighborhoods. Residents, business owners, and other interested stakeholders will have a unique opportunity to share their ideas for neighborhood preservation and improvement. The participation process for the Somerville by Design neighborhood plans will be designed to generate consensus-based urban design solutions without the need for a multi-year planning process.

The kickoff “visioning session” for all three neighborhoods will be held at the Center for Arts at the Armory (191 Highland Avenue) at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, October 17. This session will identify current challenges and future visions for the Ball Square, Gilman Square, and the Lowell Street/Magoun Square neighborhoods. Subsequent design workshops will be held in November, for which details will be made available.

Community members will work directly with local and national experts in urban design, architecture, and engineering in a hands-on format to see their ideas come to life via real-time sketches and professional artist’s renderings of neighborhood improvements. The sessions will be led by OSPCD staff with design work coordinated by Jeff Speck, an author and designer who is the former Director of Design for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and a pioneer in implementing the NEA’s influential Mayor’s Institute on City Design.

“During the groundbreaking SomerVision Comprehensive Planning process, our residents consistently identified a need to develop neighborhood-based plans around the future Green Line stations,” said Michael F. Glavin, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development. “Each individual neighborhood is unique in its needs, and I look forward to working with residents and the business community to identify ways to maximize the benefit of the new transit service.”

“All around the country, community planning is focusing on urban design, because residents know what parts of the physical environment work and what parts need improvement,” said George Proakis, Director of Planning for the City. “Whether a neighborhood needs better sidewalks, more open space, or well-designed construction on vacant and underutilized lots, urban design and physical planning has proven to be a great way to generate consensus among community members.”

A project schedule and materials are available on the City’s website at www.somervillema.gov/bydesign.


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