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Fairmount Indigo - Uphams Corner Advisory Group Meets Oct 24, 2012

Fairmount / Indigo Planning Initiative
Uphams Corner Working Advisory Group
Meeting Notes October 24, 2012

  1. Welcome and Introductions
  2. Review WAG Meeting #2
  3. Uphams Corner Infrastructure Improvements Update
  4. Project for Public Spaces Presentation
  5. Community Forum
  6. Uphams Corner Community Visioning Discussion
  7. Next Steps

In Attendance : Joan Tighe, Chris Jones, Max MacCarthy, Andrew Forster, Adelina Alves,  Courtney Curran, Judy Beckler, David Davenport, Andrea Kaiser, Paul Meehan,

Not in Attendance: Lisa Alberghini, Alex DoSouto, Yaz Mohammad, George Papdopoulos, Dahria Williams-Fernandes

Introductory Remarks

Jeremy suggested that the prior meeting contained a lot of content and this meeting would be a time to pause and catch up with issues that needed additional research. Also two community meetings are coming up, a corridor wide community meeting on November 17 and an Uphams Corner visioning meeting in January 2013.

He reviewed the schedule of planned accomplishments and noted they were behind on the synthesis of Uphams Corner visioning charrettes. Both he and Ines stated that this happens frequently - the schedule is dynamic based on the needs and other factors. The visioning process will be delayed until after the community meeting on November 17. The group expects community ideas to help give shape to the Uphams Corner visioning process.

Note: For this planning initiative, the term "Uphams Corner" means the land that lies within a 1/2 mile radius of the Uphams Corner Fairmount Station.

Dealing with No-Shows

Max MacCarthy and Chris Jones, newly elected co-chairs of the Working Advisory Group, kept the meeting on course while Jeremy Rosenberger and Ines Soto Palmarin, who previously served as co-chairs, enjoyed more of a contributor role.

Max MacCarthy brought up the topic of WAG member no-shows. Some members appointed to the group by the mayor have yet to attend one meeting. In essence, it was noted, the 15 member body is functioning more like a 10-member body. Max/Chris will generate a new email address for direct communications and they are asking for the group's feedback and suggestions on how to make the WAG more effective.

   1. Should there be a threshold (failure to attend) beyond which their appointment will be replaced with someone else?
   2. What process (notifications, etc) should be followed to effect change?
   3. Do you have concerns about representation on the advisory committee?
   4. Are there specific people that you think might be good to serve on the WAG?

Review WAG Meeting #2

Planning Principles Reviewed

Josh Fiala from the Cecil Group (consultants) reviewed the overall arching principles that are serving as the themes for the planning process including economic development, land use, transportation and quality of life. The corridor wide process is establishing the themes and the general approach to the planning, then these are used to "play out" at the neighborhood scale, for example, in Uphams Corner. At the implementation level, do the themes work effectively? What can be learned at the neighborhood scale to tweak the corridor wide planning themes?

Adequacy of Data Sources

Josh talked a little bit more about data sources. Most of the analysis is based on census data at both the tract and block levels. He noted that they were able to select census data that matched well the 1/2 mile radius boundaries used to define the Fairmount corridor.

Are there other sources of data that should be included in the analysis? Can other sources of data be used to verify the accuracy of the data now in use?

Since the last WAG meeting, the consultants have been able to determine that the GIS data appears to be accurate and sufficiently indicative. The comparison of open spaces and change in (%) was due to open space on private land that did not show up in the GIS data

To come to this conclusion, they gathered additional data to include the open space on private land that did not show up in the GIS data. Adding this data showed more complete "real life" conditions related to open space. This was compared with the GIS (only) open space data. They used data from city-owned land to identify open spaces - community gardens, playgrounds, cemeteries, malls and squares which are non-grass areas and cemeteries, in other words, non-building land uses.

A comparison of the two approaches to data sourcing generated close results. The GIS data indicated open space of 3.4% while using "real life" conditions resulted in 3.9% open space, close enough. Why the increase? Apparently, some open space plots of land do not show up in the GIS data. The quality of the data are similar in both cases.

Types of Open Space

Chris Jones questioned the basis for categorizing land as "open space." Is this land considered open space because of its aesthetics or because of its access?

Josh said that he thought that was an important distinction. The open space (1) that includes cemeteries, community gardens and cultivated land used for farming differs significantly in quality from the open space (2) that residents regard as recreational spaces that promote social gatherings and physical activity. He noted that as a percentage of the overall open spaces, type 2 open space is even smaller and suggested that emphasis be placed on the creation of type 2 open space.

Fairmount Greenway

A greenway - the Fairmont Greenway - is being planned for the full length of the corridor.

I think due to the lack of open space in the station areas connecting the station areas to a broader network of existing open spaces, for example to the Emerald Necklace and Franklin Park, is key. The Fairmount Greenway, as it is proposed, would be one way to achieve this connection.

The Fairmount Greenway, currently being designed by the Fairmount Greenway Task Force, is an inter-connected path running the full length of the Fairmount corridor, in some areas separate from existing streets but crossing over those streets, in other areas located on existing streets with a shared use path. "In the broader open space conversation," Josh stated, "connecting the station areas to a broader network of existing open spaces, for example, the Emerald Necklace and Franklin Park, is key. The Fairmount Greenway, as it is proposed, would be one way to achieve this connection."

Attendees raised two concerns.

   1. In the Uphams Corner station area, the greenway is located on the "wrong" side of the tracks (Fairmount line)
   2. Especially for bicycle riding, the proposed location of the greenway is not safe

In essence (you could say), the two concerns are one and the same. What is the purpose of creating a greenway that may not be used? As Jeremy commented: "It's not the friendliest place to ride a bike." He admitted that if you compare the propsed greenway to the Southwest corridor, then you might see it as questionable, but, he added, "if you look at what currently exists (nothing), then you have to say it is an improvement."

The Fairmont Greenway Task Force is giving a presentation at the December CAG meeting and everyone is encouraged to attend.

Housing Affordability

Real housing affordability has to be examined by looking at both the income and the rent. Severe rent burden is related to both factors. The Cecil Group looked at the median gross rent which is rent and utilities combined. For Boston, the median gross rent is $1199. The Uphams Corner Census map shows that some sections of Uphams Corner exceed that while another section with a median gross rent of $691 has to be one of the lowest priced rent sections of Boston.

Courtney Curran asked what bedroom size the data represented. Josh will return to the next WAG meeting with that information.

Housing Density

The belief that TOD (transit oriented development) is only possible with high density housing is a misnomer. In prior meetings, the consultants had talked about two densities: 40 units per acre and 24 units per acre without addressing how density is related to TOD success. Is the 40 unit density more successful than the 24 unity density? Josh stated that the areas with lower density that are successful are along other corridors that they have looked at as case studies. These include rail corridors in Charlotte, NC, Los Angeles, CA and Twin Cities, MN.

Other Demographics

The consultants were asked to include "places of worship" in their data because these organizations serve as anchors in the community. And, please, add the Kroc center as a place of worship.

Cecil group numbers on education appeared inconsistent with information put out by the Boston Foundation. It would appear that the terminology used to describe data was open to multiple interpretations. They believe it is not a data problem but rather a problem of how it is interpreted.

Census data is not providing the Uphams Corner WAG enough of a breakdown by race. How can we get a finer gradation on the ethnic groups in Uphams Corner?

Uphams Corner Infrastructure Improvements Update

Project manager Zachary Wassmouth spoke about the upcoming infrastructure improvement initiative in Uphams Corner. At the first WAG meeting, Para.Jayasinghe announced a $3 million infrastructure improvement program as part of the Fairmount Initiative that will focus on Columbia Road between Hancock Street and Dudley Street. Zach plans to set up a subcommittee to get input and feedback and to help advise Public Works on what they want to see in the infrastructure improvements.

Right now they are narrowing down hiring a consultant for the project. Responses on the RFP are due in by November 1 and they hope to have a selection by the end of November.

They want to meet with the subcommittee over the next month and to also reach out to local neighborhood groups, attending meetings to get their ideas, then to hold a community meeting in December.

Joan Tighe asked if it were possible for members of the subcommittee to not be members of the WAG. I'm just thinking. I'm sure that there are some folks in the neighborhood who might be interested in this, people associated with Main Street. You could draw on some of those people."

Ines pointed out that the 15 member WAG is really only a 10 member group because of the number of no-shows. That's a lot of work for such a small group. Jeremy cautioned about moving too quickly since the WAG is a mayoral appointed body"¦

Zach suggested that the subcommittee work may be pretty straightforward - sitting down at a conference table in a small room and getting everyone's ideas and trying to tie the improvements into the Fairmount / Indigo Planning Initiative.

Andrea Kaiser: "We have three youth councils in this neighborhood. This could be an opportunity for them to get involved and it would be a great experience for them."

Chris asked the nature of the community meeting. Would it be more of a reporting out and discussion or would it be part of the design process? Zach said that it is "essentially to announce the project to the community to go over the status of the project. Here's what were thinking about. Here are some the challenges that we see in this area. Then open it up for comments."

Max asked if there were any way "to tie the December meeting into the January visioning meeting that's being planned?" Ines said that was under discussion and under planning at this time. Max felt that the concrete nature of the infrastructure changes might be a way to get people excited about the planning initiative - something they could relate to.

Project for Public Spaces Presentation

Ina Anderson, Mass Smart Growth Alliance, presented the results of the community exercise that took place on May 31, 2012. She reviewed how the event was organized and the nature of the "place performance evaluation game." After the "place" is defined, the group assigned uses a checklist to evaluate it. Is it comfortable? Can people be sociable there? Do you feel safe there? How is the lighting? What are the amenities like? The complete report is available on the Smart Growth Alliance website.


Four recommendations were made:

    * Connect Train Station Platform to Street Level
    * Open up the Kroc Center to the Outside
    * Transform Nonquit St. Park into a True Community Park
    * Turn the MBTA bridge into a gateway

Nancy Conrad pointed out that the recommendations could not be implemented without funding. So how is this report useful?

The purpose of the exercise was to get some brains churning and to provide creative ideas as you move towards the public realm improvements. At that point, this report and its recommendations will hopefully become part of the discussion, something that can be important and implemented.

At the same time, they pointed out that some of the property identified belongs to the MBTA and the City of Boston, for example, streets, sidewalks and trees. The MBTA has been attempting to improve its presence in the neighborhoods so maybe both groups could begin to address simple changes suggested by the report. Think of the report as germinating ideas that can eventually enter the discussion when decisions are being made or plans are being put in place.

Andrew Forster spoke about the Kroc Center's planning process that intentionally included light poles with banner posts. They were hoping the City would "meet us and continue the design on the other side of the tracks, the business side. That kind of symbolism would in essence create a connection between the two sides of the commuter rail - from East Cottage all the way to Columbia Road."

He continued: "The Kroc Center just recently put new banners out front that help to communicate what is going on inside the building, in this case, art activities. Our concept was more of a community concept that during different seasons of the year, you have different banners, partnering with the City of Boston. We would continue to pay for the banners going out in front of our place but other organizations would need to pay for banners to complete entire length."

Other Items

Jeremy apologized for canceling the walking tour of Uphams Corner which was planned for October. He forgot that the sun sets so early (5:30pm) so Josh provided a virtual walking tour of Uphams Corner instead.

The group discussed the November 17 corridor wide community forum.

Posted: October 24, 2012     Nancy J Conrad

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