By John Lynds
Charlestown’s elected officials are reacting to last week’s vote by the City Council to extend the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s (BRA) 14 urban renewal districts by six years.
“I supported this extension because it empowers the BRA with the tools necessary to control development and address areas of blight,” said Charlestown City Councilor Sal LaMattina. “My hope is that we can include certain areas of Charlestown in the Urban Renewal Zone in the future.”
Last year, the BRA began the process of including Sullivan Square into its Urban Renewal District after getting positive feedback from residents at a community meeting
“The urban renewal extension process was a good one,” said Charlestown State Representative Dan Ryan. “I know we can all look at instances over the years where we feel the BRA misused or overused their authority. But, when you step back and look at the big picture; the redevelopment of Boston is an international success story. I feel confident the City Council was thorough in their review of BRA urban renewal powers. Six years is ample opportunity to get Charlestown, Boston and the BRA where it needs to be to finish the revitalization of our neighborhoods”.
Ryan said here, urban renewal has had negative connotations but much has gone right in Boston over the last fifty years also.
“I thought last summer’s presentation by BRA planners was informative, professional and productive,” said Ryan. “Regardless of one’s views on Urban Renewal specifically or the BRA in general the discussion of Charlestown’s immediate past and its future is a good one to have. I look forward to continuing the discussion”.
LaMattina added the last time the city had any meaningful expansion of urban renewal in was back in 2005.
LaMattina said in the past urban renewal meant taking areas of the city, like the West End for example, that were blighted and developing massive infrastructure and public facilities, usually at the expense of displacing poor and marginalized residents. Today the city and residents are working to formulate a plan that benefits the city, residents and visitors.
As Ryan and LaMattina pointed out the current effort is focused on a contemporary reframing of urban renewal as a relevant tool for planning and economic development.
The BRA team leading the current extension effort is taking particular care to be as open and transparent as possible, embarking on an extensive public engagement process like the last meeting in Charlestown in last year, to educate residents and community leaders about urban renewal and to solicit their feedback about the best ways to use its tools to create vibrant neighborhoods.
The BRA has worked with the Mayor’s Office to organize an advisory task force that will help engage community members throughout the extension process. The task force is composed of neighborhood representatives from the communities where urban renewal extensions are being sought as well as stakeholders from the construction industry and the building trades.