By Cathleen Twardzik
Recently, a new initiative entitled “Somerville by Design” began. It will implement the urban design, as well as land use goals of the city’s SomerVision Comprehensive Plan.
The program’s kickoff occurred at the Center for Arts at the Armory, and it was the first of three free events to which the public is invited.
The event featured activities and exercises to assist community members and to discover their vision of the future of the neighborhoods that are located around Ball Square, Lowell Street and Magoun Square, as well as the Gilman Square Green Line stations.
Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time, which is the title of his upcoming book, is a nationally-recognized urban designer, as well as the former Design Director of the National Endowment for the Arts and co-author of Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream and of the Smart Growth Manual.
Speck participated in the City of Somerville’s planning team to coordinate design work.
“These types of participatory neighborhood-based plans are a national best-practice, and we also have a local example. The City of Somerville worked with Davis Square neighbors in the early 1980’s to prepare for the arrival of the Red Line,” said Brad Rawson of the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development (OSPCD).
Aside from Speck’s presence, the kickoff event included activities such as providing residents with a chance to mark maps of neighborhoods to show areas that are functioning well, as well as the areas in which changes are needed.
Additionally, residents leafed through a stack of photographs of different types of buildings, and they decided if the photo they were looking depicted something that they wanted to see within the areas of business districts in Somerville around future Green Line stations.
“Based on the ideas that were shared and documented, city staff and its design consultants will prepare visual models and sketches of each neighborhood that community members will be asked to react to and critique at meetings on November 28 and 29,” said Rawson.
“The physical design of streets, public spaces and buildings is a major factor influencing residents’ quality of life and the character of the business environment. Physical design is also a great way to get residents involved in public policy, since anybody who lives or works in a neighborhood can provide valuable information about how a place functions,” he said.
Somerville by Design will include the development of design-based Neighborhood Plans for future Green Line station areas, and it will 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 will serve the needs of thriving, stable and walkable neighborhoods.
The initiative will help implement SomerVision goals to conserve the character of 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 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Program.
Speck decided to become an author “because there was a very important story that I felt needed telling. I can only write well about what I am most interested in and also, I hope, most expert in, which is the design of the built environment and its impact on the quality of our lives.”
“My favorite part of writing is probably being afforded the opportunity to sit down and think carefully about the issues that concern me. Good writing is nothing more than good thinking, and it is rare today that we can take that pause to consider our lives deeply,” said Speck.
Interested individuals who may have questions about the initiative may call planning at (617) 625-6600, or visit www.somervillebydesign.com.