Opinion: Regional Growth Requires Regional Planning

To avoid the pitfalls of disconnected, car-centric suburbs, local governments must proactively plan for sustainable development in growing areas.

April 20, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Boston SUburbs

sevenMaps7 / Shutterstock

The area experiencing the most rapid growth in Massachusetts is, according to Amy Dain, "a place without an identity or united governance, a district that straddles the Mystic and Malden Rivers at the intersection of six cities: Everett, Medford, Somerville, Chelsea, Malden, and also a bit of Boston, at Charlestown." A proposed 21-story tower recently drew attention to the area for its outsized height. Since then, another two high-rise projects have been built or proposed. The region is "a natural hub between Boston-Cambridge-Somerville, the North Shore, and 128-North," an area primed for urban development with an existing "framework for connectivity" and surrounded by residential communities, employment centers, and amenities. "The six-city area is like a city center, for its density and mix of everything. Except it is not like a city center, at least not yet. For now it is an archipelago of private developments in need of the public connectivity so well known in historic downtowns."

With this growth, Dain argues, comes a need for "good government oversight and public investment" to ensure equitable, sustainable development. "Without public intervention, private developments will be primarily car-oriented, even when located near train stations, rivers, and rail trails." The same, Dain writes, goes for affordable housing and commercial real estate. "The market will not, on its own, deliver new buildings priced for low-income residents and scrappy entrepreneurs. It is the role of government to make sure that diversity gets built in when all-new city-centers rise." Dain asserts that local governments must emphasize "building for non-car mobility" which "takes so much more planning and coordination, across government bodies and parcels of land." As the region grows, "our shared task is not to build a series of gated-style, car-oriented developments, but to grow a resilient downtown for everyone."

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