Upham's Corner Online

Urban Planning in Upham's Corner

Posted: May 5, 2011     Nancy J Conrad

Urban Planning in Upham's Corner
First in a series

Upham's Corner is a dense "small town" with homes, worship centers, grocery stores, personal care salons, schools, a theater, parking, banks and many other businesses.  Depending on your definition, Upham's Corner covers less than a half square mile yet packs in over 20,000 people.

Upham's Corner is also a group of neighborhoods demarcated by transportation thoroughfares such as Columbia Road, Dudley Street, Hancock Street, Stoughton Street and Quincy Street. 

These neighborhoods differ considerably - economically, socially, ethnically and in physical appearance.  Representative neighborhood streets include Eastman, Groom, Cushing Avenue, Glendale, Monadnock, Pleasant and Hendry Streets.

Upham's Corner is an urban area, a community of people living/working in building structures, sharing agreement on the economics of exchange, engaging in methods of social interaction and further shaped by local land use and transportations systems. 

Upham's Corner is the center of a much larger area we call Greater Upham's Corner, defined by fluid local boundaries in all directions that let us speak with, cooperate with and partner with the surrounding "world."

Upham's Corner Boundaries
We, today, are the stewards of Boston for future generations.  We are the "Caretakers of the Boston Public Trust." 

Our vision of Boston's future can be a shared vision with defining characteristics that serve as an overarching model for the design process. Meaningful urban planning takes place based on such a set of ieal community standards, against which proposed urban designs can be measured and that are meant to move the city to a new manifestation, in a new era over time.  Such standards would not prescribe as much as they would promote questioning and creative designing.

The further out we envision, the "fuzzier" the standards become, and this has its advantages.  It's easy to argue against "red," but not so easy if we argue a position of "colorful."

Think of it this way: If we could roll back the clock to 1630, the urban planning process would have created a very different Upham's Corner had we known what 20th century life was like.  In the opposite direction, imagine Boston in 25 years, 50 years, 100 years.  What do we glean about life way in the future? Not much but we can start with issues that are changing our lives right now.

Shifting world powers, increasing globalization, over population, poverty and global warming are filtering down to the lowest level in the economic chain and impacting us daily.  The cost of food and petroleum products is rising.  Global competitiveness continues to shift "today's jobs" out of the country  while asking us to flexibly adapt to "tomorrow's jobs."  Global warming is an ever-looming challenge, asking us (not so politely) to change how we live and express our carbon feet.

We need to stop looking to other countries to buy our (short-lived) goods and support our habits.  Instead begin thinking locally, more like a village, regardless of the cost.  In the long run, moving Boston towards a sustainable city will help guarantee its economic stability. 

(Suggested) Examples of City-Wide Standards
  1. Minimizing use of resources (green)
  2. Moving towards community self-sufficiency
  3. Supporting cleanliness and beautification
  4. Encouraging alternative clean transportation
  5. Emphasizing pedestrian and bicycle friendliness
  6. Having open green spaces and urban farming
  7. Designing around community gathering areas close to businesses
  8. Identifying every opportunity for creative job creation
  9. Enhancing local community support services within the community
  10. Enlisting active caretakers of the public trust
Enlightening conversations stem from these guidelines. 
  • How do we build and encourage our residents to conserve? 
  • How do we design to encourage local shopping, walking and less use of cars?
  • If we have clean neighborhoods with more people in the streets, crime will go down.
  • How do we encourage the use of bicycles, car sharing, golfcart type vehicles for local travel and public transportation?
  • How can we create more green spaces that we adopt and care for ourselves?
  • Does this decision/choice bring jobs and income to our community?
  • Where can we locate additional urban farms and farmers markets?
  • How do we schedule regular events that bring community together, close to the business center?
  • How do we guarantee excellent schools and eliminate bus traffic?
Urban planning in the city of Boston is a sophisticated process involving the standard bearers and the stake-holders.  It tends to be moderated by (the latest) city initiatives, neighborhood characteristics, the BRA and limitations.
  1. City initiatives such as energy conservation and shopping locally
  2. BRA zoning codes, specific and unique to each section of the city
  3. Resident behavior and local standards
  4. Existing structures lawfully electing non-compliance
If the planning process asks each neighborhood to respond to design proposals (or to create their own), then what we get is "more of the same."  Why is this?  The average person visioning the future will invariably design another version of what already exists because that's all they know.  Or, if presented with a design option that requires accommodation (stress), the community member may elect the status quo. 

Looking at our community as it now exists, the concerns we identify are greatly influenced by our standards of measurement. If we focus on crime, quality of the existing businesses or the the cleanliness of the streets, nothing much is going to change (no movement).  If, instead, we examine Upham's Corner using a measure of the Boston of the future, then we are more likely to answer questions in a  different way, one that puts our community onto a moving path into the future.

Yes, we need to guard against adopting a design that is based on "the weakest link," one that pleases the "many" but leaves the community standing where it began and standing still.  Too readily, solutions favor the "new dress" when the real problem is one of "disease."  But "guarding" comes from a position of fear and a need to protect.  Thinking in the other direction towards hope and a belief in the opportunities being presented to us is like looking towards the sun.

It is the "standard bearers," the Department of Neighborhood Development, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (and others) who are charged with maintaining the vision without giving in too quickly to ancient thinking and a mirroring of the status quo.

Matthew Bruce, President of Upham's Corner Main Street, described his group's effort in spearheading a design for the St. Kevin's site in 2009.  Architects SAS Design were hired and they enabled a community-based initiative to design a residential re-use of that property. 

Who attended the meetings?  Mostly UCMS and the Upham's Corner Westside residents.  Reflecting the attendees' vision of Upham's Corner, the result was a first-cut at how much "better" the unused property could look and positively impact Upham's Corner.  It strongly favored a re-use of the site as residential, not commercial, not church, etc.

The Catholic ArchDiocese, property owner, asked their planning arm, POUA, Inc to develop a plan that was economically feasible and which involved a broader cross-section of the community.  What evolved is a well-honed version of the first plan and one grounded in the economic realities of low-income housing with initial approval by the BRA.

Yet, there remain concerns about that property
  • Tall buildings casting shadows on residential property that formerly enjoyed sun
  • An additional 50 cars in a neighborhood that regularly chokes on cars
  • Additional traffic around a community center which itself has no parking
  • The belief that a new Upham's Corner library is good for the building while the POUA representative admitted they raised the structure an additional story to accomodate the library
Several residents wrote in to Upham's Corner News calling for a rethinking of the Upham's Corner planning process and a halt to the St. Kevin's development until the whole of Upham's Corner can be assessed.

Like the early crocus plants shooting up through the thawing soil and bursting out in vivid color, the  professionals in urban planning are beginning to focus on Upham's Corner.  (YEAY!)
  • The BRA has already started its "Upham's Corner Planning Initiative" quietly with inter-agency conversations
  • Mayor Menino will be making it official sooon
  • The BRA is hiring two urban planning interns to work on the Upham's Corner project
  • Upham's Corner Main Street is about to share a first draft strategic plan with the community
  • The Kroc Center is open and growing (and changing how we think)
  • The Fairmount Line is under expansion and more visible because of the Kroc Center
  • ARRA money has been used to resurface the streets, add ADA handicap ramps and install traffic cameras
  • 1299 Mass Ave is under construction
  • 65 E Cottage Street remains (unavailable) in the City's Clearinghouse
  • The Leon Building on Dudley at the tracks is an "eyesore" to our business district
Before we find ourselves with another run away horse in a field of flowers (as in the 1880's in Upham's Corner), how about if we step back, take a big breath and pull ourselves "outside the old box" and into the new.

Upham's Corner has an opportunity in this planning exercise to become a model of urban planning in Boston.  It's an incredible challenge but it takes guts to step up to the plate and throw away the face mask and the protective clothing in favor of riskier choices that sustain our urban living.

| Copyright © 2010-2014 Uphams Corner News - All Rights Reserved |