When Professionals Plan Their Own Neighborhood

In Somerville, Massachusetts, a group of community residents -- many of them professional architects and planners -- have organized themselves to help the city address problems in their neighborhood.

"As a transportation consultant, Mark Chase is irked by a lot of things in Davis Square. Cars endlessly cruising for parking places. Limited bike access. Heavy traffic on neighborhood streets.

Last summer, Chase realized how many urban planners and architects live in the neighborhood. He also realized that the city didn't have the money to hire expensive consultants like him to address all of its issues.

So he decided to put together a team from the community to tackle a local problem.

To make the project appealing to busy professionals, he promised that the work would be completed in 12 weeks. He talked to his alderwoman, Rebekah Gewirtz, who put out a call for volunteers.

In July, a dozen Davis Square residents, many of them architects and city planners, assembled in Chase's backyard. He said he found that "we were all kind of frustrated that there isn't more change in the transportation arena."

Chase, whose sister Robin was a cofounder of Zipcar, said his goal was to use the group's skills to do "something really neat that could work across the city, not just Davis Square." He wanted to come up with an affordable solution that would have a chance of being implemented.

He also wanted to make sure the Monday meetings were fun. Group members brought lemonade or beer, and after the meetings ended some folks would always linger and talk for a couple more hours.

Cassie Arnaud, a housing project planner for Cambridge who lives next door to Chase, said most of the participants are professional planners and recognized "we had to do something somewhat realistic."

But at the same time, Arnaud said, "We also wanted to decide on something and run with it and see where it took us.""

Full Story: Meeting of the minds, professional grade

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