Boston is my home. My great-grandparents and grandparents called Mission Hill home ‒and my mother did too. I have great pride in our city and District 8, but it isn’t perfect. We are getting steam-rolled by development that’s not strategic. Prioritizing bottom-line profits has replaced thoughtful planning at the expense of weakening the fabric of our neighborhoods. Construction of luxury housing and the expanding demand for student housing has driven up our housing costs and displaced both renters and homeowners. Long-term residents are being swapped out for transient populations. What’s needed is a full range of affordable housing, community centers (for all ages), daycare facilities, and other inclusive community resources that build and support families of all sizes and residents of all ages and backgrounds. We need to preserve our historic structures ‒ and our unique history. Instead, we are supporting institutional expansion, as well as expensive development that is out of reach for most residents.
I’ve seen the year-by-year and decade-by-decade changes of District 8. Some changes have brought a new vibrancy to certain areas, yet there have been many short-sighted decisions acting against the greater good of residents and small business owners in our community. The worst of those decisions were not made in an open, democratic fashion; lacking transparency and compromising our neighborhoods by putting money in the pockets of the few and creating lasting negative outcomes for the many. The city’s quasi-public agency, the BRA, oversees this process, functioning without checks and balances and not accountable to the citizens affected by their decision-making. The BRA is not legally bound to have their budget approved by anyone but the Mayor of Boston. They are not legally bound to use any feedback from the Boston City Council (BCC) or residents of Boston. The public meetings and hearings are all for show; no approval is needed from the BCC to move forward ‒ even if there is significant public pushback on a development project. How can we, including our elected officials, sit by and allow a flawed system to continue and this agency not be accountable to city residents? The status quo has been in place far too long.
1914 – Boston City Planning Board established
1957 – BRA established
1959 – West End destroyed
1960 – BRA absorbs City Planning Board
1965 – Urban Renewal Areas (URAs) created
2006 – URAs extended 10 years
2016 – URAs extended 6 years
2022 – URAs should expire
When the needs of special interests come before community needs more often than not, there is a significant problem. For many years, I have regularly attended community development meetings, so I’ve seen how the process, again and again, doesn’t work for the community. The Article 80 process should include a project’s impact on transportation, public realm, the environment, and historic resources, yet that doesn’t happen consistently or they aren’t explored at a reasonable depth. Large Article 80 development projects call for community benefits to be provided, but often those are decided in advance of community input and behind closed doors or the benefits carry an expiration date. Also, desperately needed affordable housing is allowed to be built offsite when every neighborhood needs more within the community, and multiple developments within a short geographic distance are not considered as an aggregate when determining transportation pressures.
The BRA has had a long enough run. This is the moment to demand change.
The agency continues to operate using an outdated model of urban renewal that began in Boston in the 1950s, destroying the West End and parts of other Boston neighborhoods. It was supposed to be temporary. Over time the BRA gained more power, including swallowing up the Boston Planning Department that was created in 1914. The BRA has since sold off city properties for a song (and without multiple bidders) and has labeled properties, such as Jersey Street next to Fenway Park, as “blighted” to serve special interests. The BRA still retains urban renewal tools (most recently due to a vote by Boston City Council in 2016) such as eminent domain and zoning powers, but we need to band together and say that it is well overdue to align this outdated agency system with contemporary challenges and needs. In order to have true democratic city planning and development processes, we need to transform the BRA into two separate departments – one for planning and one for development and expand oversight over the process and decision-making for the future of our city.
Please join me in signing the petition and demanding strategic city planning and more transparent and inclusive development processes.
– Kristen Mobilia, Candidate for Boston City Council District 8