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December 11, 2006



Mr. McLaughlin,

Excellent post. I don't know how or why Somerville has been chosen as a "artist colony" but you are damn right, it is their lifestyle choice and not a real job that families must have to put food on the table.


Affordable housing almost never goes to people who didn't choose to be poor in the same way that artists chose not to take jobs in accounting or any more self sufficient fields. And with 15% goint to affordable, I think we can cover all the people who really did not have a choice to be poor. To allow a greater % would be to include people who chose not to take advantage of free education our country provides, not to save money or work 2 jobs like I do, and not to delay childbirth. And these people who make these choices not only do not contribute to the city in a positive way but they take away from it by committing crimes, littering, graffiti, etc, all the while feeling bitter and entitled. They are not owed anything. 15% IS ENOUGH subsidized housing! Please stop advocating for Union Square to be ghettoized.



"Current zoning requires 12 percent of housing to be set aside for affordable housing."

Who is advocating more subsidized housing and advocating Union Sq. to be ghettoized?

Billy D

Is the allocation of affordable housing a different process than the zoning? I think it is. Matt you sound like you like all the rezoning except for the artist part. If that is the case should you not be more interested in finding out how the affordable housing gets allocated? Is it a cozy connected lottery system? does Trant, Brickbottom and Sabat get to run poor people off only to put them into certain affordable units?



If you want to make more affordable housing the best way is to increase the supply of housing. While you bicker about how much and for whom this affordable housing should be built you instantly just decreased the likelihood a developer comes into Union Square and builds any additional housing (If this was Davis or Porter Square developers will build affordable housing because they can cost justify affordability requirements). Sometimes I don’t know why I got an education and a good job, to think if I were low skilled and low paid I could afford brand new housing. Affordable housing, Capitalism at its lowest.

Net effect

Development in Union Square will allone will drive up rents. But add the green line extention and rents go up a whole lot more. With business rents up the residential rents will rise unless the property taxes are kept down. But that will only help a little. So the Union square area will lose more affordable housing than you can possibly build. So quit lying to yourself about building more. If you want to build more, do it in assembly square or put in some measures that protect local mom and pop retailers and residents.

Why is there no discussion on how to protect Mom and pop locally owned businesses?

Mom and Pop Store

I'm a business owner in Union Square, also a life long Somerville resident. My current rent for under 700 square feet of space with NO parking is currently $1500 per month with NO LEASE. How much more can one small business possibly pay?

When I move to Union Square to live in my husband's house that he was born into, we got involved with the Union Square Taskforce. The Taskforce met for many years. We facilitated many planning meetings about the Square LONG BEFORE it was slated to become an Artist Colony. AND LONG BEFORE any politician cared about our neighborhood.

I don't think in all the years that the group met that anyone ever proposed changing the face of the Square to resemble the new North Point Development in Cambridge. I think the City is absolutely out of their mind to think that 12 story buildings are even slightly feasible. If you want to build high rises, I think the developers should stay in Boston.

The entire fabric of our community is going to change. No longer will you have ANY mom and pop stores, they will all be chains. We recently welcomed a new Subway. Just what we needed across the street from Mama Gina's. Another sub shop. The chain stores will be the only companies that will be able to afford rents.

And what about the families in the Union Square area? Let's build a ton of 1-2 bedroom apartments so NO KIDS will be living here. That will be great. Gentrify it so it's visually appeasing as downtown Boston. Would anyone proposed 12 story buildings for Davis Square??

Look at the development on the Mystic River on the other side of Assembly Square. I don't even think those buildings are 12 stories high. They look like commercial crap. Deserted at night, except for the chain stores that occupy the commercial spaces on the ground level.

I think the plan sucks.

yet another resident

There is a vast difference between 12 story high rises (ala northpoint) and 3-5 story mixed use structures. However, even the smaller, mixed use structures, will result in an increase in available housing. I, personally, am more in favor of mixed use structures because they add residents to the area while also maintaining room for small businesses providing somewhere to walk to. Without the businesses, you end up with a "walking area" that has nowhere to walk to -- go to wall street, nyc after business hours and you'll see exactly what I mean.

As for upping the % allocated to artists and/or giving them special zoning, thats crap. Isn't there a requirement that we're all supposed to be treated/protected equally under the law?

If folks think that this is a change in my tune, they're wrong. I've very much been in favor of increasing density over what we've currently got, but, that doesn't mean losing our minds and/or no longer building mixed use structures. In particular, I believe that mixed use structures is very much what makes an area attractive to many people. If folks are looking for example
neighborhoods, I'll have them look at the North End rather than NorthPoint for a template of what I'd like to see zoned in Union Square.


To yet another resident,

I'd rather have the powers that be look at Kendall Sq. rather than the North End for a template of what I'd like to see zoned in Union Sq.



When you look at the "City Squares" web site they have listed 47 Columbus Ave. and 51 Munroe St. as buisnesses. How is that? I thought these area's were zoned for residential purposes.

Ron Newman

Kendall Square is a good example of what you don't want -- a place dominated by office buildings, with no residents, and no life after 6 pm. They are slowly realizing this was a bad idea, and adding residences, but they've got a long way to go.

In most places, when an independent drug store closes, it gets replaced by a CVS. In Kendall Square, it was replaced by a Fidelity Investments office! Not useful to anyone other than a multi-millionaire.


I am sure with the hotel, Legal Seafoods and other eatery's Kendall is not completly dead after 6:00pm. A place dominated by office buildings and hi-tech firms bring in much needed revenue that Somerville needs. I'll take Fidelity Investments over a check cashing joint anyday.

Also using Kendall as a template we can tweak it so there is a nightlife involved in the process. There is enough housing around Union Sq. so that shouldn't be a focal point, just a small piece of the puzzle. We need tax revenue not another coffee shop!


I would love to send this blog to a real estate investor I’m sure they’ll find it hilarious. What’s funny?:

Brickbottom: “I'd rather have the powers that be look at Kendall Sq. rather than the North End for a template of what I'd like to see zoned in Union Sq.”

Keep dreaming, if it wasn’t for MIT and Harvard none of those corporations would have located in Kendall Square.

Ron Newman: “Kendall Square is a good example of what you don't want”

Why would Somerville want to attract high-wage important corporations in our community allowing Somerville residents to pay substantially less taxes (Cambridge has a residential tax rate approximately half of Somerville’s). We need more affordable housing because our schools aren’t crowded enough. That was sarcasm.

Net Effect: “Why is there no discussion on how to protect Mom and pop locally owned businesses?”

In a free society we consumers should be free to decide where to shop. If you want protection from capitalism why not try opening up shop in Cuba or North Korea. I hear things are great there. More sarcasm.

This is not a difficult concept, for private investment to come to Somerville we need to take down development barriers; otherwise we get another wasteland like Assembly Square. It really is amazing how little development has occurred in Somerville despite being nestled between Boston and Cambridge, surrounded by world renown universities and having excellent highway access.



As usual your hatred towards others make you contradict yourself as you see below.

"Keep dreaming, if it wasn’t for MIT and Harvard none of those corporations would have located in Kendall Square."

"It really is amazing how little development has occurred in Somerville despite being nestled between Boston and Cambridge, surrounded by world renown universities and having excellent highway access."

Maybe we can squeeze in a Fire Station while we are at it. Not sarcasm.


From Wikipedia:

"Somerville has a mix of blue collar Irish-American, Italian American and to a slightly lesser extent Portuguese American families who are spread throughout the city; immigrant families from Brazil, Haiti and El Salvador, who live in the area known as East Somerville; South Korea and India in the Union Square area, and college students and young professionals, many of whom live in sections near Cambridge, or near Tufts University, which straddles the Somerville-Medford city line, although the university's formal address is Medford.

With only slightly over 4 square miles (10 km²) of land, Somerville is the most densely populated city in New England and the fifth densest city under 100,000 in the United States after Guttenberg, NJ, Union City, NJ, West New York, NJ and Hoboken, NJ according to the 2000 Demographics of the United States.

As of the censusGR2 of 2000, there were 77,478 people, 31,555 households, and 14,673 families residing in the city. The population density was 7,278.4/km² (18,868.1/mi²). There were 32,477 housing units at an average density of 3,051.0/km² (7,909.1/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 76.97% White, 6.50% African American, 0.22% Native American, 6.44% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 4.96% from other races, and 4.85% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 8.76% of the population.

There were 31,555 households out of which 18.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 32.2% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 53.5% were non-families. 31.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.38 and the average family size was 3.06.

In the city the population was spread out with 14.8% under the age of 18, 15.9% from 18 to 24, 42.6% from 25 to 44, 16.2% from 45 to 64, and 10.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 94.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $46,315, and the median income for a family was $51,243. Males had a median income of $36,333 versus $31,418 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,628. About 8.4% of families and 12.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.3% of those under age 18 and 13.6% of those age 65 or over.

Somerville has experienced dramatic gentrification since the Red Line of Boston's subway system was extended through Somerville in 1985, especially in the area between Harvard and Tufts Universities, centering around Davis Square. This was especially accelerated by the repeal of rent control in the mid-1990s being directly followed by the Internet boom of the late 90s. Residential property values approximately quadrupuled from 1991 to 2003, and the stock of rental housing decreased as lucrative condo conversions become commonplace. This has led to tensions between long-time residents and recent arrivals, with many of the former accusing the latter of ignoring problems of working-class families such as drugs, gang violence, and suicides. Incidents such as anti-"yuppie" graffiti appearing around town have highlighted this rift."

Paisly Paterson

The American housing industry cares as much about this problem as the American food industry cares about America's obesity problem.

Most Americans are buying houses which are too big, and which are too far away from places people need to go. This is unsustainable.

The housing industry doesn't give a fuck about the practicality of their housing as long as some sucker can be talked into buying it. And most Americans get suckered into buying it.



I suppose that is a contradiction but what I was trying to say is that in the spectrum of crappy little mom & pop retailers and a significant private investment in Union Square, we would have already seen a lot more of the later. However, with residents like yourself advocating unnecessary fire stations, brand new housing for the "working class" and community groups whose sole objective is to stimie development, our elected officials generally sides with crappy little mom & pop retailers.

Again, I don't "hate" others I just seriously think all Government employees have been taken us hard working taxpayers for a ride. Brickbottom, do you work for the city? If not, why do you always defend them?

Investigate Bradley.........


I am against as you say "brand new housing for the "working class" and community groups whose sole objective is to stimie development". If you have noticed I am for "significant private investment" to help ease homeowners tax burdens.

I don't defend all city workers, but I will defend the firefighters which you take so much glee in putting down. And no, I am not on the public payroll.


I forgot to change "posted by" from a previous post but just the same someone should investigate the midget.

Mayor Albion Perry

Mayor Albion Perry Address, 1896
Background: Mayor Albion A. Perry addressed the annual dinner of the Central Club shortly after a veto of a planned park area in Ward 2. Mayor Albion A. Perry was the Mayor of Somerville from 1895-1898. Reported in the Somerville Journal, March, 2, 1896.

Mayor Perry:

"Now let me add a few practical and serious words upon a subject which I deem of vital importance to Somerville at the present hour. It relates to the improvement and adornment of the City in which we live. I think it has been our misfortune in the past not to make use of these natural gifts. We seem to have been lacking in public spirit and have allowed Somerville to develop in a somewhat haphazard way. Even now it is not too late to inaugurate a change in policy which shall produce marked results in the future.

Another subject in which I am deeply interested is the improvement of the banks of the Mystic River. The river furnishes the only water-front we have in Somerville, and at a comparatively small expense the marshes lying along the river could be made very attractive. Unless something is promptly done in this direction, unsightly manufacturing establishments, and, possibly, offensive trades will occupy the Mystic lowland."

Buy now or lose out! Green Line's a coming!

When the Green Line comes to this city, according to a realtor in this city:

"Areas around T stops quickly increase in value", said a Somerville Realtor , who first saw it happen when the Red Line came to Davis Square.

Although the exact location of the T stops is not known, the Somerville realtor said "it could still be a good idea to buy in neighborhoods that are likely to be near the Green Line". Especially in the Union Sq. area, ie. Lincoln Park, Prospect Hill area. Even the Gilman Sq. and Magoun Sq. area, areas that are planned to have Green Line stops.

So while prices are now stagnant or dipping slightly in a few years to come the prices will inctrease dramatically. Just look at Davis Sq. and the surronding area because of the Red Line.

A lot of long time homeowners will be cashing out when this happens and moving on to greener pastures.

thug life

That's cool. They can move to the burbs. Then I'll follow when I get forced out and they'll be right back where they started. You can't run away from a problem


In case no one's reading the other thread, I'll say it here:

What we need is quantitative accountability from our city officials.

- We need for them to make projections, right now, about future socioeconomic makeup, ethnic makeup and family vs. non-family makeup.
- If the projected future is unacceptable to us, we beat their asses now until they amend their proposal.
- Each year, we track how their projections match up with what happens.
- If reality starts badly falling off from the projections, we beat their asses until they fix the situation.

You don't need a census to do quantitative tracking. You just need to do some random sampling. Not terribly hard or expensive. Especially compared to the new tax revenue the city rakes in, if all goes according to plan.


sampling does not work

Mike, sampling does not work for a fluid and transient place like Somerville. Look at the projections from 1990 to 2000 and see how "correct" those were. No one should be held to account for population projections, even worse for "cultural" and "ethnic" projections. That is pure shooting fish from a boat. You'll miss almost all of the time. The family makeup thing may be the easiest, depending on the quality of your population projections, but see above for the worth in that. In short, it's not something that has ever been solidly reliable.


You may be right that sampling is difficult. Although "does not work" seems hard to believe. Does that also mean that taking surveys (e.g. of political sentiment) of people in Somerville is impossible? Or just that the "noise" there is assumed to not bias the results, whereas the "noise" here is assumed to bias them?

Do you have pointers to studies that have attempted to take quantitative measures like these in city areas? How do we know it's not going to work?

Even if sampling proves too noisy, it's hard to believe there's no way to get a quantitative handle on whether the city is meeting its goals. In fact, that seems almost impossible to believe.

- What about administering index-card-sized surveys to people who move into new condos?
- What about, at minimum, income information from people's state tax returns?
- There must be all kinds of data-collection agencies that know the address of half of all Americans, as well as plenty of other info about them.
- If a new condo opens up, you could do a freakin' door to door survey in one day.

Granted, these may not be as effective as a comprehensive, neighborhood-wide sampled survey, but if you say that's impossible, what else can we do? I find it extremely hard to believe that the answer is "nothing."

To me, it seems like some sort of quantitative benchmarking is the only way to introduce real accountability here, as opposed to "trust us," which is not accountability.



That was a little overwrought. People will still have a voice (it sounds like it, anyway) when new condos or commercial buildings move in, etc. So it's not just "trust us."

But if the city can make a good-faith effort to clarify to people what is happening to their city, I think that would be extremely helpful. Not least because people have busy lives and probably do not have time to fight every last building proposal.

On the other hand, I am a newcomer at this sort of thing, so maybe fighting every last building proposal is just the way it works.

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