Wu Begins Process of Sunsetting Boston Urban Renewal Plans

This week Mayor Michelle Wu began the process of sunsetting Boston’s outdated Urban Renewal plans in several areas of Boston including the Charlestown Urban Renewal plan.

Mayor Wu filed the order with the City Council Monday that would begin the process of sunsetting the city’s urban renewal plans.

Historically in Boston, Urban Renewal was a set of land development tools that dates back to the American Housing Act of 1949 was most commonly associated with the demolition of the West End in 1957 and subsequent displacement of thousands of families. The order would immediately sunset five of the 14 active urban renewal plans in Boston.

The order would see the other nine plans, which includes the The Charlestown Urban Renewal plan, sunset on December 31, 2022.

“Today we begin the process of winding down urban renewal’s legacy in Boston as part of a broader effort to build transparency and accountability for our shared growth and prosperity,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “This order will give our departments the time to map out a larger plan and come back to present later this year.”

During the early 1960s, the former Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) initiated plans to demolish and redevelop sixty percent of the housing in Charlestown. In 1963, the BRA held a town meeting to discuss their plans with the community. The BRA’s dealings with Boston’s West End had created an atmosphere of distrust towards urban renewal in Boston, and Charlestown residents opposed the plan by an overwhelming majority. By 1965, the plan had been reduced to tearing down only eleven percent of the neighborhood, including the removal of the elevated rail tracks.

While all 14 plans are currently set to expire on April 22, 2022, the short-term extension for nine of the plans, which includes the The Charlestown Urban Renewal Plan, will allow for further discussion with the City Council and community stakeholders. Wu said this extension will help to accelerate plans to prevent unintended negative consequences and advance positive, community-oriented outcomes.

One of the public purposes of the Urban Renewal Plan for Charlestown was to preserve the waterfront for public use and to foster such use by limiting development along the waterfront that would interfere with public access, use and enjoyment of the waterfront.

As it currently stands, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) has identified over 1,300 parcels with existing Land Disposition Agreements tied to urban renewal powers, some of which provide protections for affordable housing, open space, and other land use provisions. This additional time will give the City the time to set a plan for potential state legislation to transfer or protect the appropriate provisions.

Wu said the City is in the process of hiring a new Chief of Planning, who will be critical to setting the direction for urban renewal sunsetting and larger structural reforms to build a more equitable, resilient, transit-oriented, and affordable city. This extension will also provide an opportunity to align the mayor’s goal for a comprehensive vision for planning and development in the city.

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