By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)
For Somerville, it’s been another very big week in the news. On Tuesday, Governor Deval Patrick and MassDOT Secretary Richard Davey came to town to mark the start of construction on the Green Line Extension from North Point in Cambridge to Route 16 in Medford.
Let me put that another way: the state is starting actual construction on the Green Line Extension as part of its commitment to open a light rail transit station in Union Square by the spring of 2017. Despite the delays and the doubters, despite all the foot-dragging and hand-wringing by opponents of transportation investment, the people of this city have won a major victory that will go on to generate economic and quality-of-life benefits across the region and for decades to come.
In Union Square, MassDOT and the MBTA are honoring the terms of the Memorandum of Agreement they signed with us back in August. The revitalization plan approved by our Aldermen and our Planning Board will be fully supported, just as promised, by the restoration of transit service. The role that the city has agreed to play by assembling the parcels needed to provide a site for the station (and to take full advantage of the development opportunities afforded by the coming of the Green Line) has been justified.
As anyone knows who has ever worked on a project of this magnitude, for every day that work goes forward it becomes a lot harder to retreat. And now that work is starting.
For Somerville and the entire metro region, today’s announcement was a huge milestone in a year of milestones.
The Governor has shown considerable courage and exceptional leadership by launching this project at the same time that he goes to the legislature to ask for a permanent funding fix for the state’s chronically underfunded transportation system. He is acknowledging in the clearest possible terms that the success of our regional economy depends both on fixing what is broken and building for the future, that this is not an “either/or” proposition.
Meanwhile, across town at Assembly Square, Federal Realty Investment Trust – the master developer of the Somerville’s new multi-use, transit-oriented, riverfront neighborhood – announced that it had signed a purchase and sale agreement with IKEA to acquire the 12-acre site after the international furniture giant decided not to build a second store in the Boston area. Federal Realty announced that it would use the added acreage to extend the larger concept for the district (a concept the city promoted and shares) by building additional office and housing facilities with ground-level retail space. That’s the same type of dense, multi-use construction already under way at Assembly Row, although in this case Federal also intends to add a regional grocer to the mix, which is great for the development as a whole, and adds another type of destination retail sure to be popular with visitors.
And all of these new features will further enhance the Assembly Square district as a thriving, walkable urban community served by a new Orange Line stop (also already under construction).
Federal’s acquisition of the IKEA parcel and its vision for how to use the land represent a major upgrade for the future of Assembly Square and the city as a whole. It is the smashing victory of the dense, urban mixed-use neighborhood over the superstore.
In both squares – Union and Assembly – public investment is leveraging far greater private investment. In both squares, transit is an essential element in creating a fertile environment for sustainable economic growth. In both squares, we are seeing the renaissance of the urban core coming to fruition before our eyes.
In both squares, we are seeing what happens when residents are directly engaged in a vital and ongoing discussion about how to create a city where they want to build their lives. We are seeing the advantages of deciding – together – where we want to go instead of just sitting back and watching what happens.
We should hold no illusions that we can start to ease off now: there is still plenty of work to be done in order to make certain that these development initiatives reach their full potential.
And we should remain determined to extend the promise of these thriving projects to every corner of our community, to every square and every neighborhood.
But anyone who thinks this hasn’t been a year of extraordinary progress for our city and its people just hasn’t been paying attention.