Jamie and the team answer five questions about working with the City of Boston to guide the creation of its citywide plan in 50 years.
- How did your experience with large-scale planning help inform your strategy in Boston?
Planning for the long term asks cities to define citywide goals, develop an overarching vision to guide investment, and then use that vision to identify policy priorities and align public resources. Collecting the best expertise from across many disciplines is critical for success.
A useful citywide plan goes beyond land use or capital projects. It begins with a deep understanding of demographic and economic changes, and leverages the city’s public and private physical assets, human and social capital, and regulatory and financial tools to achieve the city’s goals. We work closely with our city clients to integrate the best of land use planning and urban design, policy and economic analysis, civil and transportation engineering, civic engagement, and innovative thinking about sustainability and resilience to give policymakers the best information and insights to act upon.
- What was the biggest challenge to address when imagining Boston’s future?
Boston is a historic, land-constrained city with a highly productive workforce and a population that has grown twice as quickly as the nation since 2010. Like many younger knowledge economy cities, including Seattle and San Francisco, Boston is planning for the challenges and opportunities that come with growing rapidly and specializing in innovative, knowledge-based industries. I would say Boston’s number one challenge is one many that cities are facing—how will Boston keep housing affordable, invest in infrastructure, and expand access to opportunity as it grows?
Through Imagine Boston 2030, the City is answering this question by guiding new housing and investment to areas that can support growth, while also ensuring that the benefits of that growth become accessible to more Bostonians.
- What was your approach to addressing these challenges?
The City wanted to understand where Boston could grow given its constrained size of 49 square miles, while also responding to the needs and ideas of existing residents. The City and the planning team began by developing job and population projections for 2030 and 2050, which enabled us to assess demand for new housing and jobs across the city. We paired these projections with significant urban planning and land use analyses that identified three types of places for enhancement and growth: existing neighborhoods that are predominantly residential and where quality of life can be improved; the commercial core, which can accommodate continued growth and diversification; and edge areas between the core and neighborhoods, where industry can be strengthened and significant mixed-use growth can occur.
Contextually-sensitive growth and investment in these three areas will enable Boston to accommodate projected 2030 and 2050 growth, while also addressing the city’s goals of improving quality of life, strengthening Boston’s economy, and preparing for climate change. The plan also identifies two additional priorities to guide investment in these areas: creating a waterfront for future generations, and generating networks of opportunity through physical, economic, and social connections between historically-underserved communities and the city’s existing and emerging economic centers.
- How has engaging the public led to a more effective outcome for Boston?
Mayor Walsh’s administration has done an excellent job prioritizing public engagement and community outreach. Imagine Boston 2030 is an extension of that approach. To date, we’ve heard from over 12,000 Bostonians through open houses, street surveys, and online platforms. Their feedback has shaped the way we approached all parts of the plan—from identifying new places to live and work, to providing feedback on open space and economic development priorities. We’ve also focused on making sure the ways in which we engage residents and visitors give insight into the planning process, for example, using Legos to consider how different densities of development can produce varied community benefits.
- What’s next for Imagine Boston?
We’ll release a final plan in 2017 that identifies how the initiatives and priority actions identified in the November plan will be funded, led, and measured to ensure success. Concurrent plans like Climate Ready Boston, Go Boston, and 100 Resilient Cities are other important avenues of progress for Imagine Boston’s goals. HR&A’s involvement in Climate Ready Boston and 100 Resilient Cities bolstered the City’s internal coordination, and is enabling the development of a series of focused, aligned actions.