The State of Zoning for Multi-family Housing in Greater Boston

How thousands of pages add up to a housing deficit

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance is pleased to announce the release of “The State of Zoning for Multi-family Housing in Greater Boston,” the culmination of a two-year research project by Amy Dain of Dain Research that we commissioned in collaboration with MassHousing, Massachusetts Housing Partnership, Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), Massachusetts Association of Realtors, Homebuiders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).

See the report here.

You’ve heard study after study explain that housing production lags far behind what we need to keep our housing costs reasonable. From 2010 to 2017, Greater Boston added 245,000 new jobs but only permitted 71,600 new units of housing. As a result, one quarter of all renters in Massachusetts now spend more than 50% of their income on housing. Our housing costs continue to rise faster than New York or California.

But this is not another one of those studies. Over the last two years, researcher Amy Dain has systematically reviewed the bylaws, ordinances, and plans for the 100 cities and towns around Boston to uncover how local zoning affects multifamily housing and why we’re failing.

It’s an amazing piece of work.

Although it seems like we’re building more housing than ever before—and we are the fastest growing state in the Northeast—Massachusetts builds only half of the homes that we did each year in the 1970s when our economy was stagnant.

This comprehensive report answers important new questions:
Where can new housing be built around the region?
How do we make decisions about development projects?

What we have we done to get to this point, and what can we do about it?

Here are Amy’s four principal findings, along with her takeaways.

1) Very little land is zoned for multi-family housing.

For the most part, local zoning keeps new multi-family housing out of existing residential neighborhoods, which cover the majority of the region’s land area.

In addition, cities and towns highly restrict the density of land that is zoned for multi-family use via height limitations, setbacks, and dwelling units per acre. Many of the multi-family zones have already been built out to allowable densities, which mean that although multi-family housing is on the books, it does not exist in practice.

At least a third of the municipalities have virtually no multi-family zoning or plan for growth.

Takeaway: We need to allow concentrated density in multi-family zoning districts that are in sensible locations and allow for incremental growth over a larger area.

2) We are moving to a system of project-by-project decision-making.

Unlike much of the rest of the country, Massachusetts does not require communities to update their zoning on a regular basis and make it consistent with local plans. Although state law ostensibly requires municipalities to update their master plans every ten years, the state does not enforce this provision and most communities lack up-to-date plans.

Instead, the research documents a trend away from predictable zoning districts and toward “floating districts,” project-by-project decision-making, and discretionary permits. Dain found that 57% of multi-family units approved in the region from 2015-2017 were approved by special permit, 22% by 40B (including “friendly” 40B projects), 7% by use variance, and only 14% by “as-of-right” zoning.

There also seems to be a trend toward politicizing development decisions by shifting special permit granting authority to City Council and town meeting. The system emphasizes ad hoc negotiation, which in some cases can achieve a more beneficial project. Yet the overall outcome is a slower, more expensive development process that produces fewer units. Approving projects one by one inhibits the critical infrastructure planning and investments needed to support the growth of an entire district.

Takeaway: We would be better served by a system that retains the benefits of flexibility while offering more speed and predictability.

3) The most widespread trend in zoning for multi-family housing has been to adopt mixed-use zoning.

83 of out of 100 municipalities have adopted some form of mixed-use zoning, most in the last two decades. There is a growing understanding that many people, both old and young, prefer to live in vibrant downtowns, town centers and villages, where they can easily walk to some of the amenities that they want. Malls, plazas and retail areas are increasingly incorporating housing and becoming lifestyle centers.

Yet with few exceptions, the approach to allowing housing in these areas has been cautious and incremental. These projects are only meeting a small portion of the region’s need for housing and often take many years of planning to realize. In addition, the challenges facing the retail sector can make a successful mixed-use strategy problematic. Commercial development tends to meet less opposition than residential development, even in mixed-use areas.

Takeaway: We need more multi-family housing in and around mixed-use hubs, but not require every project to be mixed-use itself.

4) Despite their efforts, communities continue to build much more new housing on their outskirts rather than in their town centers and downtowns.

About half of the communities in the study permitted some infill housing units in their historic centers, but her case studies show that these infill projects are modest in scale and can take up to 15 years to plan and permit.

On the other hand, many more units are getting built in less-developed areas with fewer abutters. This includes conversion of former industrial properties, office parks, and other parcels disconnected from the rest of the community by highways, train tracks, waterways or other barriers. This much-needed housing can be isolated even when dense, and still car-dependent because of limited access to public transportation and lack of walkability.

As Amy Dain says, “We permit tens of units in the centers, and hundreds on peripheries.”

Takeaway: We need to allow more housing in historic centers as well as incremental growth around those centers. Furthermore, we need to plan an integrated approach to growth districts so that they can be better connected to the community and the region.

Thank you for reading! On the report webpage, you can find:
Amy Dain’s PowerPoint presentation and notes that tell the story of her findings
An 11 page Executive Summary
The full 123 page report
Last year’s report on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

82 State Reps Call for Zoning Reform

Thanks to an outreach effort that included more than 450 activists from around the state, we are pleased to report that 82 state representatives signed on to a letter asking the Speaker to prioritize passing a Great Neighborhoods bill this session. This incredible response means that a majority of all House members are on record calling for action!

Reps. Steve Kulik and Sarah Peake are now working with their colleagues to determine what provisions could be included in a package that could come to the floor for a vote. As we await next steps, please check out the full text of the letter below to see if your state representative signed on and if so, please reach out to thank them for doing so. If they did not sign on, you can still encourage them to make zoning reform a priority here!

May 22, 2018


Honorable Robert A. DeLeo

Speaker of the House of Representatives

State House, Room 356

Boston, MA 02133


RE:     Zoning Reform and Housing Initiatives


Dear Mr. Speaker:

We are writing to express our support for a zoning reform and housing initiative package that reflects a balance and compromise of concerns and impacts expressed by interested parties in the fields of housing, planning, environment and municipal government.

Massachusetts families, especially seniors and young people, face a housing crisis that threatens to tear them from their communities and undermine our economic success and quality of life.  Businesses indicate that housing scarcity makes it difficult to attract and retain employees, while many cities and towns struggle to create vibrant, walkable places that can attract new investment.

Governor Baker’s “Housing Choice” bill, as reported out by the Housing Committee, can serve as a starting point to modernize the Commonwealth’s planning, zoning and permitting rules.  It contains simple majority approval for zoning improvements and special permits that help to produce and preserve housing, along with local option inter-municipal agreements to share costs and revenue from development.

In addition, we support including the following provisions:

  1. A training program for residents who serve on local planning and zoning boards. Funding has been included in a supplemental budget and will be distributed through the Department of Housing and Community Development.
  2. Expediting certain kinds of appeals by limiting court review to whether or not the local permit decision was made appropriately.
  3. A mediation process at the local level to resolve permitting disputes.
  4. When a zoning change is considered, requiring the planning board to provide an advisory report on whether the proposed change is consistent with the master plan.
  5. Providing notice to the board of health when a development project application is submitted to a municipality.
  6. Authorizing “site plan review,” a tool that helps communities to improve project design while ensuring prompt approval for developers.
  7. Making it easier for developers to “cluster” homes in a subdivision to conserve land and reduce construction costs.
  8. Enabling more single family homeowners to create a modest “accessory apartment” within the home for relatives, caretakers, or rental.
  9. Extending the time municipalities have to exercise a right of first refusal to purchase agricultural land or recreational land.
  10. Reform of unregulated “Approval Not Required” development, if a community is willing to adopt a Minor Subdivision Ordinance or By-Law.
  11. Encouraging more multifamily housing in sensible locations.
  12. Clarifying that discriminatory actions in zoning and permitting are not allowed under Massachusetts law.
  13. Establishing sensible parameters for property owners to vest their property rights, which will encourage municipalities to update their zoning.

State zoning, planning and subdivision statutes have not been significantly updated since 1975.  Passage of such a bill would be a worthy accomplishment and in line with the House’s tradition of reform.  In that regard, we respectfully request that the House take action on a comprehensive zoning reform and housing initiative package by the end of session.  Thank you in advance for your consideration.




Stephen Kulik                                      Sarah K. Peake                                     Patricia A. Haddad

1st Franklin District                               4th Barnstable District                            5th Bristol District


Paul A. Schmid, III                               Paul McMurtry                                     Andres X. Vargas

8th Bristol District                                  11th Norfolk District                             3rd Essex District


Christine P. Barber                                Byron Rushing                                     Brian Murray

34th Middlesex District                          9th Suffolk District                                10th Worcester District


Timothy R. Whelan                              Carmine L. Gentile                                John W. Scibak

1st Barnstable District                            13th Middlesex District                          2nd Hampshire District


Daniel M. Donahue                              David Paul Linsky                                Jay R. Kaufman

16th Worcester District                          5th Middlesex District                            15th Middlesex District


Cory Atkins                                          Randy Hunt                                          Mike Connolly

14th Middlesex District                          5th Barnstable District                            26th Middlesex District


Paul W. Mark                                       Jonathan Hecht                                     Natalie Higgins

2nd Berkshire District                            29th Middlesex District                         4th Worcester District


Aaron Vega                                          Stephan Hay                                         Kay Khan

5th Hampden District                             3rd Worcester District                            11th Middlesex District


Brian M. Ashe                                      Shaunna L. O’Connell                          James K. Hawkins

2nd Hampden District                            3rd Bristol District                                 2nd Bristol District


Adrian Madaro                                     Thomas M. Stanley                               Paul Tucker

1st Suffolk District                                9th Middlesex District                            7th Essex District


Denise C. Garlick                                 Jack Lewis                                            Jose F. Tosado

13th Norfolk District                             7th Middlesex District                            9th Hampden District


Frank I. Smizik                                     Juana B. Matias                                    Carolyn C. Dykema

15th Norfolk District                             16th Essex District                                 8th Middlesex District


Todd M. Smola                                    Marjorie C. Decker                               David M. Rogers

1st Hampden District                             25th Middlesex District                          24th Middlesex District


Mathew Muratore                                 Paul J. Donato                                      Bud Williams

1st Plymouth District                             35th Middlesex District                          11th Hampden District


Harold P. Naughton, Jr.                         Jay D. Livingstone                                Smitty Pignatelli

12th Worcester District                          8th Suffolk District                                4th Berkshire District


Joan Meschino                                     Susannah M. Whipps                            Carlos Gonzalez

3rd Plymouth District                             2nd Franklin District                              10th Hampden District


Frank A. Moran                                    Solomon Goldstein-Rose                      Antonio F. D. Cabral

17th Essex District                                 3rd Hampshire District                           13th Bristol District


Elizabeth A. Malia                                Sean Garballey                                     John Barrett

11th Suffolk District                              23rd Middlesex District                          1st Berkshire District


William C. Galvin                                Tricia Farley-Bouvier                           Daniel J. Ryan

6th Norfolk District                              3rd Berkshire District                             2nd Suffolk District


Louis L. Kafka                                     Dylan Fernandes                                  Steven S. Howitt

8th Norfolk District                               Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket          4th Bristol District


Angelo J. Puppolo, Jr.                           William L. Crocker, Jr.                         Ann-Margaret Ferrante

12th Hampden District                           2nd Barnstable District                           5th Essex District


John J. Mahoney                                  John C. Velis                                        Russell E. Holmes

13th Worcester District                          4th Hampden District                             6th Suffolk District


Kenneth I. Gordon                               Danielle W. Gregoire                            James J. Dwyer

21st Middlesex District                          4th Middlesex District                            30th Middlesex District


Shawn Dooley                                      Joseph W. McGonagle, Jr.                     Diana DiZoglio

9th Norfolk District                               28th Middlesex District                          14th Essex District


Mary S. Keefe                                       Daniel Cullinane                                   Tackey Chan

15th Worcester District                          12th Suffolk District                              2nd Norfolk District


Alan Silvia                                           Evandro C. Carvalho                            Jennifer E. Benson

7th Bristol District                                  5th Suffolk District                                37th Middlesex District


Rady Mom                                           Gerard Cassidy                                     Linda Dean Campbell

18th Middlesex District                          9th Plymouth District                             15th Essex District


Jeffrey N. Roy
10th Norfolk District

Boston Globe’s 1-2 Zoning Punch

Appropriately for MLK weekend, two Boston Globe columnists independently picked up the zoning reform banner to point out the common roots of our housing crisis and Massachusetts’ deep segregation.

In today’s paper, Renée Loth says, “A comprehensive bill making its way through the State House would do more to ease the affordable housing crisis — and repair the state’s longstanding economic and racial disparities — than you might imagine.”

That bill is our bill–House 2420/Senate 81. And you can sign our online petition here.

The zoning reform bill sets new statewide standards allowing for multifamily housing, accessory dwelling units, cluster zoning to preserve open space, and other “smart growth” initiatives. It eases the current statewide requirement of a super-majority vote to change local zoning or to grant special permits. It helps smaller communities plan better through grants and training. And, importantly, it explicitly outlaws “exclusionary land use practices” that discriminate against racial or economic minorities, families, and other protected classes. “It’s not only about affordability,” says André Leroux, director of the Smart Growth Alliance. “It’s also about inclusion, and being able to live with diversity.” He describes the state’s segregated community patterns as “a monoculture.” 

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Dante Ramos discusses an ambitious effort in California to combat zoning problems like ours head on and unlock development near transit stations:

Zoning has an ugly history. In a startling book entitled “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” author Richard Rothstein details the thousands of steps that federal, state, and local officials took over decades to keep African-Americans from moving into white areas. When courts invalidated explicit racial zoning, cities and towns from coast to coast imposed codes that restricted the construction of multifamily housing — a more legally defensible way to keep supposed undesirables out.

This year, we can take real steps in Massachusetts to correct these injustices, but we need you to let us know that you support the Great Neighborhoods campaign. If you do, we’ll keep you posted about when and how to weigh in with state leaders.

Read the full articles:

Zoning reform offers a path to economic equality and social integration” by Renée Loth, Boston Globe, 1/16/2018.

Go on, California–blow up your lousy zoning laws” by Dante Ramos, Boston Globe, 1/14/2018.

I encourage you to engage in the conversation in the comment sections, and to forward this important message to friends and families who might be interested. We need our allies to stand up and make themselves known today.

Find talking points, infographics for social media, and much more here at our Take Action Center. Thank you!

André Leroux is executive director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance.

For more information:

Congratulations to our Placemaking Fund Mini-Grant Winners!

Read project descriptions and press release.

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance (MSGA) and the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) Boston are pleased to announce the Placemaking Fund mini-grant awards. Thanks to all who applied.

With 35 applications, it was a very competitive process and speaks to the overwhelming interest in placemaking resources in our Commonwealth.

The winners are as follows:

Download Awardees List and Projects
Placemaking Fund Awardees (PDF)

Placemaking Fund: Request for Interest (RFI)

The Boston Local initiative Support Corporation (Boston LISC) and the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance (MSGA) are excited to announce that we are now accepting Letters of Interest (LOI) for our pilot “Placemaking Fund.” Mini-grants of up to $5,000 will be awarded to projects through a competitive process described in the document attached. A total of $45,000 in funding is available to be awarded in 2016. To apply to the Placemaking Fund, follow the guidelines in the Request for Interest (RFI) below.

Please respond no later than Friday, May 13, 2016, midnight.

Download the RFI

Placemaking Fund RFI (PDF)
Placemaking Fund RFI forms (Word)

MSGA Testifies on Zoning Reform

Today the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance presented testimony to the Legislature’s Community Development and Small Business Committee about the growing need to reform the laws that govern development in our state. We are managing, at the same time, to produce fewer homes than our residents want, at a higher cost than many can afford, making it harder to attract employers, forcing municipalities to spend on unsustainable infrastructure, not producing enough of the walkable neighborhoods that make our communities healthy, consuming too much forest and farmland, and putting too much greenhouse gas into the air. That is quite a feat.

Download Full Testimony

For more information, please visit our Zoning and Permitting Reform page.

Zoning Reform: Almost Doesn’t Count

It was a whirlwind end to the 188th Massachusetts Legislative session. Despite the calls of many legislators and supporters to bring House Bill 4065, An Act Promoting the Planning and Development of Sustainable Communities, to a vote, it did not come up before time ran out. With the real estate market heating up and cities and towns struggling to plan and re-
zone more than ever, this was a lost opportunity. Forty years of inaction is unacceptable.

See yesterday’s Boston Globe editorial about this unfinished business.

We’re proud of the coalition that came together to advance this bill, ranging from local officials, planners and municipal staff to environmentalists, affordable housing advocates and the public health community. Nearly sixty Representatives and Senators signed on as co-sponsors when it was introduced by Rep. Stephen Kulik and Senator Dan Wolf. Newspapers around the Commonwealth ran commentary in support of the bill. Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance Director Andre Leroux and Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone spoke to WBUR’s Radio Boston about the importance of the legislation. The Municipalities Committee, chaired by Rep. Sarah Peake, reported the bill out favorably.

It’s clear there’s an appetite for change when it comes to our outdated zoning and permitting laws. Thank you to everyone who helped get the attention of the Speaker and the Senate President. We have to make sure that improving planning and development are at the top of the list in 2015 for legislative leadership—and the new Governor.

Placemaking Project: ReImagine A Lot, Salem

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance recognizes placemaking initiatives across the Commonwealth. This project is one of many that were featured at our 2013 conference. See other placemaking examples

The “ReImagine A Lot” dynamic participation project seeks to engage residents to imagine what an abandoned lot could be. The project consists of two parts that reinforce each other: a physical component that provides the space for civic-social events; in turn, these social events provide the workforce to create and maintain the physical component. Over the course of eight weeks, various stakeholders helped build a mural, a community bulletin board, and a suggestion board. The civic-cultural events included: the Point Neighborhood Association meeting in the open air, Recycling Presentation and Games and Community Barbecue with local band The Dejas. The project collected community supported suggestions for the permanent transformation of the space.

Contact: Claudia Paraschiv, Salem Public Space Project,

Placemaking Project: Bartlett Yards, Roxbury

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance recognizes placemaking initiatives across the Commonwealth. This project is one of many that were featured at our 2013 conference. See other placemaking examples

Bartlett Yard is the site of the former MBTA Bartlett Bus Yard and the future home of Bartlett Place, a major new residential and retail development in Roxbury. The total site area is approximately 8.6 acres. From May-September, 2013, the site was host to a variety of community events as well as Boston’s largest collection of street art. The buildings are scheduled to be demolished in December, 2013, to make way for Bartlett Place.

Contact: Mark Paulo Ramos Matel, Rose Architecture Fellow at Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation,

Placemaking Project: The Gloucester HarborWalk

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance recognizes placemaking initiatives across the Commonwealth. This project is one of many that were featured at our 2013 conference. See other placemaking examples

The Gloucester HarborWalk opened August 2012 and was designed by Cambridge Seven Associates through the Community Development Department of the City of Gloucester through the Office of Mayor Carolyn A. Kirk. The HarborWalk is a free, self-guided walking trail with story moments and public space throughout downtown, and designed with interactive new and traditional media as well as space for public programming.

Within its first year the HarborWalk has received several awards. It was a key component to securing a second cultural district within our City. Programming has ranged from history tours, to school group projects, and garden club engagement. The 2013 HarborWalk Public Art Challenge was published and more than 175 ideas were submitted for consideration by artists from 34 states across the country. During the summer of 2013, the first of the three public art awards was installed, a temporary work of art, the 300’ street mural FISH NET by James Owen Calderwood, fostering a range of placemaking results.

Contact: Catherine Ryan, Committee for the Arts and Friends of the HarborWalk,

Placemaking Project: Eagle Street Beach Party, North Adams

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance recognizes placemaking initiatives across the Commonwealth. This project is one of many that were featured at our 2013 conference. See other placemaking examples

Each year in North Adams on the second Friday in July more than 250,000 pounds of sand, donated by Specialty Minerals and delivered by the City of North Adams, is spread, curb to curb, the entire length of Eagle Street. The family-friendly beach party runs from 3:30 – 6:30pm and the adult-oriented fiesta, complete with margaritas served on the beach, takes place from 7 – 10pm. This ‘street sculpture’ idea came from North Adams artist Eric Rudd, who planned the first Beach Party 15 years ago. This event/art installation has become one of North Adams’ most beloved annual events, drawing people from near and far to visit a ‘beach’ over three hours from the nearest ocean.

Contact: Veronica J. Bosley, Director of Tourism & Community Events,

Placemaking Project: Circle the City Boston

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance recognizes placemaking initiatives across the Commonwealth. This project is one of many that were featured at our 2013 conference. See other placemaking examples

Circle The City Boston is a community-building Open Streets initiative that temporarily transforms our streets into places for people, promoting active lifestyles, family fun, local arts and culture, and health and wellness. On July 14th and September 29th, 2013, Circle The City featured 1.5 miles of car-free corridors on Huntington and Blue Hill Avenues that reclaimed public space and celebrated the opportunity for the community to gather for health, fitness, dance, music and fun for the whole family. Open Streets not only offers the chance to reclaim our streets for active, non-motorized uses, the events contribute to the growing vibrancy and economic improvement of Boston neighborhoods.

Contact: Jessica Parsons, Emerald Necklace Conservancy (Circle the City Boston),

Placemaking Project: Upham’s Corner ArtPlace Initiative, Dorchester

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance recognizes placemaking initiatives across the Commonwealth. This project is one of many that were featured at our 2013 conference. See other placemaking examples

Upham’s Corner ArtPlace, coordinated by a collaborative partnership of arts and community development organizations, with support of the Boston Foundation, engages local residents, artists and businesses to create a dynamic, shared vision for the neighborhood. Residents, artists and university arts students are mapping cultural assets and ethnic traditions and elevating them through public art, open studios, public performances, craft and food markets, and innovative programming such as flash mobs and “pop-up” exhibits in vacant storefronts to raise the visibility of culture in the neighborhood. Particular focus is being placed on place-making activities by utilizing readily available spaces like the T-station, parks, street corners to connect and strengthen arts, culture and neighborhood business. In addition, the project leverages the use of the Strand Theater as a performance hub for the neighborhood.

Contact: Liora Beer, ARTMORPHEUS,

Placemaking Project: Downtown Pittsfield Complete Streets Transformation

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance recognizes placemaking initiatives across the Commonwealth. This project is one of many that were featured at our 2013 conference. See other placemaking examples

In 2005, the City of Pittsfield, through the leadership of the Department of Community Development and the Department of Public Works, prepared a Downtown Streetscape Master Plan for South and North Streets which are located within the central business district of downtown Pittsfield.

Downtown Streetscape is a multi-phased, multi-million dollar street improvement project. Since this in an aggressive program, the City divided the project into multiple phases with components ranging in cost from $600,000 to $4 million.

The Streetscape Master Plan recommendations include new sidewalk treatments, new crosswalks with bump-outs, new roadway and alignment, decorative lighting, street trees, new plantings in key locations, rain gardens to improve the storm water drainage, bicycle accommodations, new benches bike racks, bike lanes, bus shelter and trash receptacles.

Streetscape Phase 1, Streetscape Phase 2 and Park Square Streetscape Improvements have been completed. The City is currently working on Phase 3 which is at 25% design and has an estimated cost of $4 million and Phase 4 surveying.

Contact: Cornelius Hoss, City of Pittsfield,

Smart Growth Project: Watershops District Revitalization Plan, Springfield

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance recognizes smart growth projects and planning/zoning initiatives across the Commonwealth. This project is one of many that were featured at our 2013 conference. See other examples


The Watershops District Revitalization Plan focuses on revitalization strategies within sections of the Six Corners and Old Hill neighborhoods in Springfield. The plan is a continuation of ReBuild Springfield and focuses on redevelopment of Old Brookings School into housing and community areas; development of owner-occupied single-family housing on vacant lots with a higher density; three mixed-use centers; revitalization of Ruth Elizabeth Park; incorporation of pedestrian-friendly features such as street crossings and benches; and new alternative transportation and open space connections.

Opportunities: The opportunities for this plan included the availability of vacant lots that can be redeveloped as new owner-occupied housing; historic structures located in dense and walkable areas; collaboration with Springfield College; and several existing parks that could be improved and become greater neighborhood assets.

Challenges: Challenges identified include: illegal activities in the neighborhood as a whole and parks in particular; neighborhood perception that constrains redevelopment and reinvestment; concentrated areas of vacant parcels and buildings; lack of parking options for businesses; lack of funding options for redevelopment activities; and absentee landlords who do not maintain properties.

Project Team: Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, HAPHousing, MHSC Neighborhood Council, Rosemary Morin, Alicia Zoeller, Brookings Elementary School

Cost: Not Available

Units: 30 new housing units, 26 rebuilt housing units

Funding Sources: Barr Foundation

Contact: Josiah Neiderbach, Planner, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission,

Placemaking Project: “Somerville by Design” Davis Square Master Plan & Pop Up Plaza

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance recognizes placemaking initiatives across the Commonwealth. This project is one of many that were featured at our 2013 conference. See other placemaking examples

As part of the Somerville by Design effort, Principle Group has been working with the city to create a community led 30 year master plan for Davis Square. This planning process and resulting plan has used a sophisticated public input process that is a variation on the traditional charrette process as well as the use of Tactical Urbanism to engage stakeholders, in the short term to improve the square, and inform our long term plan by testing assumptions in the real world. This effort has resulted in positive community engagement in the plan and a coordinated process by government to create an implementation plan that has both three months objectives and 30 year goals.

Contact: Russell Preston, Principle Group,

Smart Growth Project: South Station Expansion, Boston


The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance recognizes smart growth projects and planning/zoning initiatives across the Commonwealth. This project is one of many that were featured at our 2013 conference. See other examples

South Station

This project is designed to improve streetscape and pedestrian, bicycle, local transit, and vehicular facilities in and around South Station, including the re-opening of Dorchester Avenue for public use; to consider opportunities for joint public/private development over an expanded South Station; to enable growth in high-speed and other intercity passenger rail service in the northeastern United States; to support sustainable economic growth and improved quality of life in NEC metropolitan areas; to support increased statewide transportation access, environmental sustainability, and improved personal mobility.

Opportunities: The expansion will allow for the opportunity to connect New England and the communities around Boston with a more efficient and effect public transit system. 

Challenges: Due to the size and scope of the project, there are many more stakeholders to include and manage throughout the process. The development of the project relies on first purchasing and demolishing the US Postal Service distribution facility on Dorchester Avenue, and the future for funding of large transportation projects is unknown.

Project Team: MassDOT, MBTA, US Dept Transportation, Amtrak, City of Boston, HNTB

Cost: $850 million

Funding Sources: State, Federal, and Private funding

Contact: Katherine S. Fichter, Manager of Long-Range Planning, MassDOT,  Project website link here.

Placemaking Project: HyArts Cultural District, Hyannis

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance recognizes placemaking initiatives across the Commonwealth. This project is one of many that were featured at our 2013 conference. See other placemaking examples

Placemaking is a keystone of a decades’ long downtown Hyannis revitalization effort. The Town, with business and cultural partners, invested in infrastructure, programming and marketing for the downtown, now the state-designated Hyannis HyArts Cultural District. Hyannis’ compact, mixed-use urban core supports a culturally, socially and economically vibrant place.

The Town invested in placemaking by enhancing artistic, cultural and creative sector activities. These investments include the Kennedy Legacy interpretive trail, connecting pedestrians to the harbor via Pearl Street which also features the Town’s HyArts campus of galleries, incubator workspace and artist in residence. The Town also invested in staff to support placemaking through arts, culture and the creative economy.

Hyannis Harbor hosts Town-sponsored live performances, a maritime museum and working waterfront activities. Also at the Harbor, HyArts shanties provide local artists affordable incubator space to create and sell their work.

Concurrent with these creative economy focused investments, thoughtful infrastructure improvements were implemented for Main Street to enhance walkability, provide room for on street dining, street lighting, planters and public art. Additionally, a primary pedestrian connection to Hyannis harbor, the Walkway to the Sea, was installed. An award winning public art project, Buoyed Coasts, was constructed along the harbor portion of the Walkway. Buoyed Coasts remains one of the most photographed scenes in Hyannis.

Contact: Jo Anne Miller Buntich, Town of Barnstable,