Beyond Sunsetting Urban Renewal
To the Editor,
John Lynds’ article in the March 3rd edition of the Patriot-Bridge on sunsetting Boston Urban Renewal exposes a profound defect in Charlestown’s governance, the failure of planning. With disappearance of urban renewal, any foundation for planning will dissolve. Unclear is what will replace urban renewal. The dissolution is an opportunity Charlestown should seize to control its future.
The article notes the early abuse of Boston’s urban renewal, notably tearing down of the West End where my father grew up. Mayor Wu in her 2019 proposal to abolish the BPDA went into great detail the sequence of events that established and empowered the Boston Redevelopment Authority, now the BPDA, which was created to implement Urban Renewal. Mr. Lynds maintains that ‘one of the public purposes of the Urban Renewal Plan for Charlestown was to preserve the waterfront for public use and foster such use by limiting development along the waterfront that would interfere with public access, use and enjoyment of the waterfront”. On what was this goal based? What are any examples of such urban renewal actions? Is this guideline being followed? Certainly, the recent now rejected RFP for private development of Navy Yard Pier 5 was a violation of such a purpose.
The BPDA’s Plan: Charlestown process has been plodding and fanciful without action as evidenced by the recent Preserving Charlestown’s Sense of Place presentations (see https://www.bostonplans.org/planning/planning-initiatives/plan-charlestown). Absent is any relationship between the planning process and the BPDA’s development actions. None of the several developments now under review for Charlestown are reflected. The approval process is dissociated from any plan for Charlestown. None of the impacts of development on Charlestown infrastructure – traffic, transportation, schools, housing – are part of Plan: Charlestown. The Navy Yard and Bunker Hill Housing are excluded from the process. Allegedly, the Navy Yard has a plan, the 1990 Charlestown Navy Yard Master Plan for the Yard’s End, dated 32 years ago. The 2007 Waterfront Activation Plan, allegedly an update, is woefully out of date and irrelevant (see http://www.bostonplans.org/neighborhoods/charlestown/navy-yard-master-plan-implementation). Another dissociated process, Climate Ready Boston/Charlestown, is proceeding independently in its own silo.
With the passing of Urban Renewal, Charlestown residents should demand a true plan for the neighborhood that includes all its areas and infrastructure. Planning should not be divorced from development. Planning should precede development. Development should follow a planning process that reflects and adheres to both the vision and substance of what residents want for their community.
Gerald H. Angoff, MD