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March 15, 2007


quit withtheleadingquestions

First off, Union square is not affordable.

Yah, really

The graduate with a science degree asks, "Why does it work?" The
Graduate with an engineering degree asks, "How does it work?" The
Graduate with an accounting degree asks, "How much will it cost?" The
Graduate with an art degree asks, "Do you want fries with that?"

Joe Curtatone

Wait, where's all the ranting about a sinister plot SCC to move more poor people and criminals in to Union Square and destroy the neighborhood? Could it be that the Newsies actually agree with this one!?

hey now

We are we going to stop blaming each other and start blaming predatory lenders for gentrification in Somerville. When are we going to start blaming the Developers and contractors and the politicians they buy? Why do allow PayDay loan sharks to operate in our community?

it *is* funny

I read an interesting article in the Union Square Main Streets newsletter (chock full of info, subscribe if you don't already). Smart growth makes so much sense to me, from what I've read. The approach includes various components, the one that jumped out at me is a need for "compact buildings". How does this square with the proposed zoning changes to double the height of the buildings in Union? Is the important point about the footprint of the buildings? Anyone care to educate me? Are we just calling it Smart Growth?

Bill Shelton

The idea of “compact buildings” refers to getting the maximum use from a given square footage of land. The opposite of compact buildings would be the physical design that goes with “suburban sprawl”—low-rise buildings surround by expanses of lawn or parking lot.

The idea of compact buildings can best be understood in the context of some of the other smart growth principles:

Mixed land use—a compact building could have those uses that bring the most visitors on the first floor, e.g., retail, service businesses, public service offices, and those uses that bring fewer visitors on the upper floors, e.g., offices and housing. Mixed use also creates 24/7 activity, which discourages crimes.

Preservation of open space—taller buildings and shallower setbacks make more efficient use of land, reducing the consumption of open space, farmland, natural beauty, and sensitive ecologies.

Walkable neighborhoods—compact buildings shallow front setbacks of and their continual windows and doors facing the street create a more comfortable urban walking environment, encourage interaction, and discourage crime.

Fostering distinctive communities and a sense of place—building a neighborhood of compact buildings with these characteristics simultaneously creates a built environment that is more distinctive than suburbia and social interaction that fosters a sense of community.

Variety of transportation choices—the more compact the buildings are, the denser the land use is, and therefore, the more property tax revenues are produced to pay for public transportation, bike paths, parks, etc.

The last point is true for all public services and infrastructure. On the one hand, building intensively creates a higher assessed value and higher taxes per acre. On the other, it reduces the per capita public infrastructure. For example, one fire station can effectively serve many more households in an urban area than in a suburb. New York city consumes the least energy per capita of any U.S. city—ten times less energy per person than Dallas, for example.

All of these are good reasons why some people are advocating increasing building heights in Union Square. Others are opposing height increases by saying that they will create shadows and wind tunnels, and “destroy” the Square’s character. I believe that it is incumbent on both groups to present real evidence, specific to Union Square, on what the optimal heights should be. So far, I personally am more persuaded by the tall building advocates.

it *is* funny

Thanks Bill. I appreciate that thoughtful response. I live across the street from a very tall church myself, and the concerns about living in shadows and creating wind tunnels are valid -- but I agree that the evidence needs to be presented about the application in Union Square. Handled thoughtfully it shouldn't be a deal-breaker.

Born Here

maybe the Union Square Task Force (USTF) should find out who is defacing the square with duct tape all over the buildings. Probably some artsy fartsy type who doesnt pay taxes. It looks like crap. Oh, the green line will cure all. Anyone read the MBTA crime stats in the Herald?

Ron Newman

The duct tape is part of a temporary Somerville Arts Council project:ArtsUnion Lightscapes. It will be up through April.

Davis Square has thrived with a 50-foot/4-story height limit. I'm not necessarily against taller buildings than that in Union Square, but first I'd like to see the parking lots and one-story buildings (e.g. Riverside Kawasaki, Goodyear) replaced by higher buildings within the existing limit.


The Somerville Arts Council needs to begin using their own property for their 'art'. This group is such a waste of time and money that it isn't even funny.

Union Square

There is really no reason or need for the height limit to be increased in Union Square. Take a walk through parts of downtown Boston, or through smaller urban areas like Malden Center. Dark, deserted wind tunnels (despite 'mixed use'), cold and uninviting!
And by the way, tax revenues increase only if you can fill these massive structures. Look at vacancy rates of offices, condos, etc.

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