Somerville's youth offer advice on how to keep the city thriving and alive
~Photos courtesy of YSAG
By Julia Fairclough
a single-stream recycling program, keeping Somerville clean by imposing
code violations, and encouraging developers to increase affordable
housing were just three priorities that the city's younger generation
set before the mayor on Monday night.
Mayor Joseph Curtatone's
Youth Somerville Advisory Group (YSAG) held its annual report and
recommendation meeting at the Armory, as part of its ongoing efforts to
involve and give voice to Somervillians aged 25-42.
is a great place to live, with a great location, great restaurants,
great people, and a mayor who cares about our point of view," said
James Stark, 31, YSAG's co-chair. "We want to ensure that we keep it
And it's not news to anyone that Somerville's young
population is growing. The Ville is often touted as the new "hip" burb
of Boston, admired for its diversity, creativity, affordability, and
proximity to the highway. In fact, 42.6 percent of Somerville's
population is aged 25-42-the highest concentration in the Boston area
(see box below), according to 2000 census figures compiled by the city
(the most recent youth stats data).
YSAG, which formed two
years ago, is comprised of 20-30 members at any given time and meets
with city officials twice each month. The group's mission is to learn
more about ongoing and new efforts to improve city services, and to
give voice to an age group that is typically not so active with town
The group's recommendations were gleaned from
routinely surveying the city's young population via Google surveys and
during community events like ArtBeat and Riverfest. A few highlights of
the top priorities are as follows:
o Continue to work to
implement a single-stream recycling program in Somerville. This means
allowing people the flexibility to lump paper and canned goods into one
recycling tub to make it more convenient for everyone to recycle. The
city should also include recycling information and the benefits of
doing so in resident tax billings.
o Use code enforcements as
a tool to increase revenue, while keeping Somerville clean and safe.
Such efforts might be directed at rental residents and those property
owners (often absentee landlords) who are not maintaining the upkeep of
their property; including those who don't shovel their sidewalks in the
o Encourage developers to increase the number of
affordable sale and rental properties, as well as discouraging them
from converting properties into condos in order to retail sufficient
affordable rental units.
o Develop a first-time homebuyers course for young residents.
o Increase the basic requirements for Shape Up Somerville-approved restaurants to improve the health of residents.
Create long-term off-street parking lots or spaces where residents
without driveways can safely leave their cars for one to two weeks, at
a reasonable fee.
Establishing a strong presence in the community will be a primary focus in the upcoming year, YSAG members say.
other issues posed by members include adding more bike lanes, bike
paths, and bike parking areas, said Jon Pettit, 30, who works in alumni
relations for Harvard University. "I'm interested in alternative forms
of transportation," he said.
Pettit heard about YSAG shortly
after buying a condo here two years ago. He grew up in Amherst, a
community that was active in local government, including "involved town
meetings," he said with a chuckle. It was only natural for him to join
"Engaging people in our age group is often difficult to
do," said Matt Hartman, 28, a first-year law student at Suffolk
University. "As a group, we have progressed to all sorts of issues that
have come up, like improving communications with the city."
co-chair Lauren Tulp, 25, who works for a philanthropic consulting
firm, said young people do want to get involved with politics, but
oftentimes don't know how to go about it.
"This has been a great
learning experience," she said. "I've learned about the structure of
city government, how it works, what to take advantage of. There are so
many opportunities for us out there."
YSAG would also like to
reach out to the community and work with organizations that serve the
homeless, for example, said Stark, a project coordinator for the
state's Executive Office of Public Safety.
Members are really
excited about the possibility of creating a first-time homebuyers
class. Carrie English, 28, who works for WGBH, ended up buying a condo
in Somerville after learning through being a part of YSAG about the
resources available to young people like herself.
"Somerville has progressive affordable housing programs that many people do not know of," Pettit said.
members acknowledged that membership was mainly reflected in the
college-educated, Caucasian, working professional. They are working to
become more diverse by printing flyers in Creole and Portuguese and
increasing their outreach into the immigrant population.
Visit www.somervillema.gov/youngsomerville for more information about YSAG.
The Boston area's youngest cities The percentage of youth aged 25-42 in metro-Boston.
Somerville - 42.6%
Cambridge - 38.6%
Malden - 36.9%
Arlington - 36%
Boston - 35.8%
Everett - 34.8%
Chelsea - 34.7%
Medford - 28%
Source: City of Somerville census figures from 2000