Mayor Michelle Wu and Chief of Planning Arthur Jemison announced last week that the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) Board of Directors will vote on a new policy introducing diversity, equity and inclusion into the review process for large projects in the City of Boston at their August board meeting later today. This proposed policy would request that proponents disclose diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) plans for large projects when they are filed with the BPDA through Article 80. The agency believes this proposed policy would be the first of its kind in the country.
The City of Boston and the BPDA are strongly committed to advancing opportunities for diversity, equity, and inclusion within Boston’s economic development community and real estate sectors. With the approval of the proposed BPDA’s DEI in Development policy Thursday night, applicants filing development projects over 20,000 square feet (SF) would be requested to submit plans to include economic participation, employment, and management roles for people of color, women, and certified Minority and Women Owned (M/WBE) Businesses within the scope of their project.
“Our residents, developers and businesses all want the same thing: we want to see Boston thriving and growing sustainably, and connect opportunity to all of our residents, in particular our young people,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “This new policy is about ensuring success is spread across our communities, while incentivizing sustainable growth and creating more transparent processes.”
“Development can be a catalyst to not only bring positive investment to our neighborhoods, create good jobs and affordable housing at a range of levels, but also bring opportunities to build wealth for those who have historically been left out of Boston’s building boom,” said Chief of Planning Arthur Jemison. “Building a Boston that is equitable, and representative of the people living here is important to our agency, and we believe this policy will begin to get us there.”
The BPDA would collect these plans for informational purposes to understand disparities in the real estate market, increase M/WBE participation over time, and evaluate strategies to drive greater impact. This proposed policy builds on the BPDA’s DEI requirements that ask bidders for public land parcels to outline a DEI plan. The DEI plan disclosure may also include initiatives undertaken by the project proponent to meet these goals within the context of the proposed project.
“The Builders of Color Coalition is pleased to see the City moving forward in increasing access and diversity in Boston’s commercial real estate sector,” said Colleen Fonseca, Executive Director of the Builders of Color Coalition. “This proposed policy stands to empower the development community to highlight and promote innovative solutions to transform commercial real estate into an industry of opportunity and diversity.”
This proposed policy also builds on the BPDA’s progress to diversify development on publicly-owned land. For the past several years, the agency has prioritized using public land for public good, and in 2018 began requiring that developers competing for publicly-owned land demonstrate commitments to diversity in all aspects of their proposed project, including ownership. More than 18 projects have included this criteria, and transformative projects are underway on BPDA-owned parcels in Nubian Square, Chinatown, the South Boston Waterfront, and Charlestown. Much of the BPDA’s policy was written alongside the community as part of PLAN: Nubian Square.
Last year, the BPDA redesigned its procurement process and adopted an Equitable Procurement Plan to ensure that M/WBEs benefit from the agency’s contracts. The BPDA has increased training and staffing to better equip the agency to successfully diversify the yearly contract spend, including hiring a Supplier Diversity Specialist, who reaches out directly to M/WBEs to provide notifications of upcoming contract opportunities. The BPDA is collecting data to measure the impact the Equitable Procurement Plan has on diverse contracts, and provides quarterly updates to the BPDA Board.
Recognizing that it is critical to support a pipeline of diverse young people interested in jobs in planning and development, in April the BPDA hosted an interactive event aimed at introducing Boston Public Schools (BPS) ninth and tenth graders to careers in planning and development. In February, the BPDA co-hosted an event with the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA) to introduce Boston-based businesses, architects, engineers, planners, property managers, and general contractors to opportunities with the BPDA.
Ongoing transformations at the BPDA
As the BPDA implements Mayor Wu’s vision, these are some early actions the agency has taken since Chief Jemison took on his new role in May 2022. While these transformations are ongoing, there will be more announcements regarding reforms to the agency in the months ahead.
As an agency, the BPDA is committed to Mayor Wu’s vision for people-centric, planning-led development. Chief Jemison has been meeting with developers of active projects under review sharing a message that proposals are expected to align with the planning priorities of the Wu Administration. Chief Jemison recently met collectively with developers who have current project proposals in Charlestown, to encourage them to ensure that their projects align with the emerging recommendations that will come out of the ongoing PLAN: Charlestown process. This guidance is what the agency has been sharing across the city, and will lead the agency’s review of incoming projects. In support of this effort, the BPDA is prioritizing staff resources to completing existing on-going planning efforts tied closely to affordability, resilience, mobility and social equity themes such as PLAN: East Boston, PLAN: Charlestown, PLAN: Mattapan, PLAN: Newmarket and the Western Avenue Corridor Study and Rezoning. These planning efforts, plus new planning efforts to be announced in the months ahead, will enable the BPDA to advance planning-led development review decisions. Concurrently, in areas where active planning and rezoning has yet to commence, the BPDA will review development proposals with teams led by professional trained planners, like Chief Jemison, and work alongside community members to ensure development decisions are transparent, predictable and accountable.
Hiring and Organizational Change
Since May of this year, the BPDA has hired or promoted 33 people to lead the agency in this era of transformation. This includes Arthur Jemison as Chief of Planning and BPDA Director, Devin Quirk as Deputy Chief of Development and Transformation, Diana Fernandez as Deputy Chief of Urban Design, Prataap Patrose as Senior Advisor of Long Term Planning, and Caroline Vanasse as Transformation Manager.
In addition, Quirk and Vanasse are supported by a transformation team internal to the BPDA which is creating the dedicated capacity to develop and implement both strategic and operational recommendations on the future of planning and development in the City of Boston. The team is staffed by new full time employees, external consultants, and experienced BPDA employees. The team is actively recruiting for Transformation Project Manager positions which are posted on the BPDA website. The transformation team’s work will help to advance the Wu Administration’s goal of continuing to build trust with communities through planning-led development while advancing equity, affordability, and resilience across all functions of the BPDA. Changes for consideration include reforming planning, development review, the zoning code, community engagement, intergovernmental collaboration, governance and organizational structure and more.
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