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Fairmount Indigo Planning Initiative Community Forum Exceeds Expectations


"Building New Connections to your Neighborhood"

For at least one month, the Fairmount Indigo Community Forum was under planning.  Given the location of the forum - the Kroc Center in Uphams Corner - pretty distant from Readville, Hyde Park and Mattapan - the BRA and the advisory groups were concerned about the attendance.  How could they guarantee being able to "get out the vote"?  The goal of attracting a sizable representation from every station area along the corridor - could it be done?

On the forum day, with arrivals streaming in, attendance looked hopeful.  By 11:30 am, both Ines Palmerin and Jeremy Rosenberger, the Fairmount Indigo BRA co-chairs were beaming - 200 attendees by 9am and up to a count of 240 as the day progressed. 


Fairmount Initiative Community Forum Nov 17, 2012 Fairmount Initiative Community Forum Nov 17, 2012


Forum Opening Presentation

The forum opened with a one hour presentation - an overview of the scope of effort, the geography and the demographics.

While the BRA is managing the Fairmount Indigo Transportation Initiative, other organizations such as the MBTA and MAPC (Metropolitan Area Planning Collaborative) have been helping them get access to federal grants for this project.  Sustainable communities grants are now being managed by MAPC and the BRA's sister organization, the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND), all of which at least partially or fully are contained within the Fairmount corridor.   

The BRA lauded the community's 15 years of grass roots efforts championing the return of an active Fairmount train service.  Essential in the BRA's current efforts, they said, is continuing to build on this community work, incorporating its accomplishments and vision into the larger planning effort.

"As we move into the 21st century, mobility is the key for getting around - jobs, education, housing and vibrant neighborhoods"  The BRA expects the planning and development efforts to generate progress across a span of fifteen years with much happening in the near-term.


The Fairmount Indigo Planning Initiative (FIPI) has four major objectives:
  1. Guide physical and economic development
  2. Encourage sustainable growth and TOD
  3. Limit displacement of existing residents and businesses
  4. Incorporate existing planning initiatives (City-led and Community-based) into one vision for the future

According to Jeremy Rosenberger (BRA), "What the city brings to this effort is our expertise in economic development and improving the physical realm -  the streetscape, the roads and  the sidewalks.  Improving the public realm ensures that private investment will come in - new housing, new retail, new jobs and also economic development."

"Involving the existing residents and businesses is important to this effort," he said.  "The big strategy here is to make sure that everyone who lives along the corridor and all the businesses that exist right now (over 900 businesses) get the chance to participate in the planning process and that they are not displaced."

The BRA announced with pride and excitement the unveiling of the "Fairmount Indigo Planning Initiative (FIPI) Corridor Profile," a heretofore unannounced deliverable (it wasn't clear they could meet the 17th as a deadline).  Quite an extensive document (75+ pages), the profile details the results of the BRA's work since the start of the planning initiative.  It defines the project - planning for a set of communities along a rail line, also known as a corridor - and identifies the characteristics of the corridor including demographics, business climate, real estate, infrastructure and quality of life.  The profile is exceptional in its presentation of visual material including maps, area photos, demographic facts, statistics and graphs.  To obtain a copy, contact the BRA co-chairs (see contact information).


Brief Corridor Overview

Through September 2012, the Fairmount Indigo line consisted of four stations.  The newest station - Talbot Ave - opened in late October, upping the count to five stops.  Under construction are Four Corners / Geneva and Newmarket.  Blue Hill Ave / Cummins Highway is in the design phase while River Street and Columbia Road are under discussion (potential), for a total of ten stations not including South Station, a significant increase over the four stations active for the last five years.
Fairmount Initiative Community Forum Nov 17, 2012

While many residents and members of advocacy groups want to focus heavily or exclusively on the trains and stations (fares, frequency of service and ridership) to the exclusion of the corridor itself, the BRA reminds the public as well as members of the advisory groups that this planning initiative is much bigger in scope.  It is focused on the communities within a ½ mile radius of the station areas.  It is about jobs, housing, transportation, connections, sustainability, quality of life, open spaces and whatever else is needed to make the corridor livable and economically sustainable.

As part of the opening auditorium session, residents were asked to go on a virtual tour of the ten station areas and to participate in a “word” game. 

Directions:

"As you pass through each station, write down your thoughts, ideas, concerns, memories and highlights on the Word Cloud Form." 

Helpers collected the forms and tallied the word counts, then entered the data into a program that generated a word frequency collage for each station.  Following lunch, attendees got to see the often surprising results.

Fairmount Initiative Community Forum Nov 17, 2012 Fairmount Initiative Community Forum Nov 17, 2012 Fairmount Initiative Community Forum Nov 17, 2012Fairmount Initiative Community Forum Nov 17, 2012



BRA and Consultant Work Progress

With a goal of generating sustainable and economically viable communities along the Fairmount corridor, the planners and their advisers have their work cut out. 


Phase
Description

Identify existing conditions (the corridor profile) relative to a set of “themes”

2 Measure the corridor profile against a desired set of demographics and conditions:
  • prosperity (vs. poverty),
  • employment (vs. unemployment),
  • educational attainment (vs. HS diploma or less),
  • quality of life (vs. no parks, insufficient numbers of youth centers, unsafe neighborhoods, lack of community involvement, etc). 

3 Use the now emerging"achievement gap" to envision steps that will make a long-term difference in the viability of the Fairmount Corridor.  What are the corridor challenges?  What are the corridor opportunities?  Strategically, what steps can the City and other organizations (for profits and non-profits) take to effect an overall improvement in the corridor?
  • Can we encourage the creation of new jobs which compliment existing jobs?
  • Are there contiguous open land areas that can be combined to form the basis for new commercial / industrial sites?
  • What is needed to create sustainable communities in terms of healthcare, education, healthy food, safe neighborhoods?
  • Do the station areas need additional cross-town transportation to move people to job centers?
  • Can the Fairmount Corridor attract people who do not live here for work, shopping, the arts, etc?
  • Are there existing amenities that no one knows anything about because this section of Boston has not been able to attract visitors?
  • What is causing some areas to have concentrations of poor and uneducated residents? 
  • What steps can be taken to empower residents to move towards change?


Fairmount Initiative Community Forum Nov 17, 2012



Breakout Sessions

With the publication of the Corridor Profile, we can assume the BRA and the Metropolitan Area Planning Collaborative (MAPC) were sufficiently comfortable with their findings (much taken from 2010 census data) and overall assessment of all aspects of the communities along the Fairmount Corridor.

However, what was missing from the data collection were the voices of the residents / businesses who live / work along the corridor.  So the November 17 Community Forum had this goal (among others) in mind - engaging community voices in such a way that they felt energized, willing to participate and to share in dialogs and hopeful for the future of their communities.

Each attendee received a packet at registration that assigned him/her randomly to a table (1-15) with the goal of creating a diverse set of folks from the full length of the corridor at each table - from Readville through Newmarket - all sharing a sense of commonality as well as noting differences. 

In advance the BRA held training sessions for its group leaders to make sure attendees would feel encouraged to participate and share.  One group leader was assigned to facilitate brainstorming while a second leader documented participant comments.  All of this will be compiled and condensed into a more coherent and meaningful picture of resident concerns, ideas, suggestions and vision along the corridor.

For a complete list of the brainstorming questions, see below.  Summary presentations followed lunch and the forum ended by 12:45pm. 

Fairmount Initiative Community Forum Nov 17, 2012 Fairmount Initiative Community Forum Nov 17, 2012

Fairmount Initiative Community Forum Nov 17, 2012 Fairmount Initiative Community Forum Nov 17, 2012


Attendee Comments about the Forum

Cynthia, who lives in Uphams Corner, but has not been involved in community events to this point, shared her enthusiasm about the forum.

Overall I was very excited about it.  The turnout was excellent.  The people at my table had a lot of great suggestions and everybody had something to say. People were allowed to speak their minds without judgment. The leaders captured all the ideas on sheets.

Also interesting was the fact that each table had such unique personalities and different orientations. The way in which people were assigned to tables seems to have worked very well.  This makes me want to get out and work together in the community. It was very encouraging.



"Questions to Start Brainstorming." 

Following are the questions, included in the attendee information packet, used to foster conversation and brainstorming during the Breakout Sessions. 

As you read through these questions, imagine how you might have responded.  If you live along the Fairmount Corridor, consider submitting your comments to the BRA.  See Contact Information

Vision Questions to Start Brainstorming


Overall

  • Is this a corridor-wide issue?
  • Is this a common theme?
Theme 1:  Parks and Public Space (Public Realm and Open Space)

  • What are the most important aspects for providing access to public parks and open space?
  • Should the neighborhoods be better connected to existing open spaces like Franklin Park? Would you use these connections?
  • What are the open space needs that are not provided for in your neighborhood?
  • What type of connections to open space would allow you to use them more?
Theme 2: Prosperity (Economic Development)

  • What are the most important aspects of creating prosperity and opportunity along the Fairmount Indigo Corridor?
  • What could be done to enhance job and business opportunities for residents?
  • What could be done to attract more jobs and businesses td the Fairmount Indigo Corridor?

Theme 3: Home (Housing)

  • What are the most important aspects of reinforcing neighborhoods as desirable places for residents to live?
  • Where should housing be located along the Fairmount Indigo Corridor? How should it relate to Main Streets? Job Centers? Rail Stations?
  • How much housing should there be? What kind of housing?
  • Should the cost of housing be mediated with affordable housing units?
Theme 4: Quality of Life

  • What are the most important aspects of your neighborhood that affect your quality of life?
  • Is the quality of the environment an issue? If so, what could be improved?
  • Is crime and safety and issue? If so, how do you make it safer?
  • Are community resources, such as libraries, schools, community centers or grocery stores available and accessible?
  • What type of cultural amenities are either strengths or are currently missing?
Theme 5: Place (Land Use)

  • What is the best relationship between different types of uses on the corridor? Combine them? Separate them? Residents near businesses? Residents above businesses?
  • The types of uses you would like to see more of in your neighborhood are? The types of uses you would like to see less of are?
  • What characteristics and qualities of neighborhoods create desirable places to live? To work?
Theme 6: Getting Around (Transit)

  • What are the most important aspects of transportation in the corridor?
  • How do you get around? What could make it better?
  • What are the connections that need to be made or improved upon?
  • Do you walk or bike to get places or as a recreational activity?


Contact Information
 
Ines Palmarin
Project Director & Senior Planner II     
Boston Redevelopment Authority
1 City Hall Plaza, 9th Floor
Boston, MA 02210

617-918-4434
ines.palmarin.bra@cityofboston.gov
Jeremy Rosenberger
Project Director & Senior Planner
Boston Redevelopment Authority
1 City Hall Plaza, 9th Floor
Boston, MA 02210

617-918-4431
jeremy.rosenberger.bra@cityofboston.gov
Posted: November 26, 2012     Nancy J Conrad


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