By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)
In Somerville, our policies, programs, and initiatives are all aligned with one orienting set of values: making our city a great place to live, work, play, and raise a family. It’s not an empty catch phrase. We take it seriously. I take it seriously. And the rewards and recognition the city receives show that, increasingly, others take our efforts seriously too. But more important is that we’re just getting started.
Over the last several years, Someville has been lauded by both reputable news sources and national agencies as one of the best places to live, as one of the most walkable and bikeable communities in the nation, and one of the most innovative. At the same time, we’ve been steadily working with the community to bring forward-thinking development and major infrastructure improvements to our city that will continue to propel our progress. We oriented ourselves around that one value to make this a great living experience, and it’s working. What many people want to know, however, is how?
Some might guess it’s our location. The nation is seeing a historical shift of residents back to the urban core, and our draw is even greater due to our proximity to top universities, hospitals and technology hubs, and rapid transit. But while our location may draw new residents, it is how we retain them that sets us apart. The secret is that we do it with your help.
Through SomerVision, a two-year community process, we drilled down to discover our core values as a community, including diversity, community, neighborhoods, and green space. Then we crafted a 20-year comprehensive (and exciting) plan to make sure we aspire to those values in all that we do. As a result, we are investing in developing a resilient economic base centered around transit that generates a wide variety of job opportunities, supports independent businesses and affords us the ability to strive for an exemplary quality of life.
To that end, ongoing work in transformative districts like Union and Assembly Squares will create thousands of net new jobs and housing units, including 6,000 affordable units. Across the city, we’re redeveloping underused sites, like the waste transfer station in Brickbottom, and upgrading major community resources like Foss Park and the Community Path. We’re rebuilding the Lower Broadway streetscape into a vibrant, pedestrian- and bike-friendly destination. We’re planning the next set of streetscape improvements for Davis Square, and tapping the community’s imagination to re-envision Winter Hill, Magoun Square, and Gilman Square. Meanwhile, we’re delivering an abundance of art, cultural and community programs to strengthen the fabric of our community, and just to have fun. This progress is marked with exclamation points, such as the buildings rising in Assembly Square, and smaller ones, like the intimate familiarity of living in our neighborhoods.
But again, we’re just getting started. In the coming years, you’ll see the transformation of areas including Union Square, Assembly Square, Brickbottom, the Inner Belt, East Somerville, and Winter Hill, and we’ll be asking your for help by sharing your ideas, input, and, yes, concerns. With the Green Line Extension finally under way, and the construction of the first new T station in the state in over 25 years also under way at Assembly Square, Somerville will see eight new T stops popping up across the city in the next decade, which will increase residents’ access from 15% to 85% living within one half-mile of public transit. In other words, our residents will be more connected to services, jobs, and education, and, conversely, our local economy will greatly benefit from the spending of visitors. In fact, I think it is safe to say that we are going to be among the best connected communities anywhere.
But economic development is not the only area showing signs of progress and continued success. Somerville was not only recently named the most innovative school system in Massachusetts, we also offer one of the greatest values of any public school system in the state. While other area school systems have been laying off teachers and slashing programs, we have been adding both. Families in other communities are getting hammered by fees, while in Somerville, preschool and kindergarten are universal and free. We have no fees for music instruction. When you get to high school and want to play a sport, there’s no fee for that either. You want your kids to have a good breakfast? Get them to school a bit early and they’ll get a free, nutritionally sound breakfast. We are training the leaders of tomorrow here, and preparing our children to be bright and active members of society should never take a back seat.
And, again, we’re just getting started. With new investment in school programs ($3 million this year), new school partnerships with area colleges and technology companies, and innovative new approaches getting under way to use data and a systems approach to increase achievement levels for every student, our schools too are growing in their success every day. Engaged parents and community members have been key in making this happen.
If you were to develop a momentum index for communities in Massachusetts, taking into account all the improvements we’ve made, all of the improvements to come, the activity in our city squares, the gains made by our school system, our increasing green and recreational space, Somerville would be off the charts in first place. There’s nothing like us right now.
Our successes are well documented. We have been named an AllAmerica city, one of the 100 best communities in America for young people, the healthiest community in Massachusetts, one of the 10 most walkable and bikeable cities in America, and one of the top smaller city travel destinations in America. We have the big picture in focus and we don’t let the details slide.
People who are buying homes in Somerville are getting a whole lot more than just a piece of property. We have become an exceptional place to live, work, play and raise a family.
But we’re just getting started.