Guest Op-Ed: Charlestown’s Future Is Bright

By Arthur Jemison

Charlestown is Boston’s oldest neighborhood. From its role in the revolutionary war, to its longstanding commitment to being home to people of a wide range of incomes, Charlestown has a rich history. Any visitor would be struck by the lasting character of the original peninsula — its brick townhomes, colorful houses, narrow streets, busy family-filled parks, flourishing small businesses, and charm. Its parks and open spaces, and its proximity to Downtown and the waterfront make Charlestown an attractive place to live for longtime and new Boston residents. This square mile of the City is an amazing neighborhood with a bright future.

In recent years, Charlestown has experienced a period of rapid growth and change. While new investment is important for a neighborhood to thrive, it is important to have a plan to shape that growth in an inclusive, thoughtful way that meets the needs of the residents who live there today. This is the goal of the BPDA’s current neighborhood planning initiative, PLAN: Charlestown.

What began as a “Corridor Enhancement Study” in 2019, originally intended to look exclusively at Charlestown’s industrial areas along the Rutherford Ave corridor and Sullivan Square evolved over time. Through meaningful participation of Charlestown residents, the planning initiative transformed into a comprehensive neighborhood-wide plan that considers both zoning recommendations and wider community needs. Together, these recommendations will be used to inform decisions regarding land use, urban design, open space, and transportation improvements, while also prioritizing public investments throughout the neighborhood.

Our Community Engagement and Planning Departments pursued creative efforts to solicit broad feedback from the full diversity of Charlestown residents by going beyond the traditional town-hall style meetings. We hosted walking tours through the neighborhood’s industrial areas to see the untapped potential and currently inaccessible public and private areas. We supported the production of a comic book about PLAN: Charlestown and spoke at local schools to break  barriers in reaching the neighborhood’s youth and making planning fun and relatable. With more than 50 formal events over the course of PLAN: Charlestown – from Pint with a Planner events at local restaurants and bars, to resident and senior events, to participation in neighborhood celebrations, our outreach and engagement involved intentional and innovative efforts to encourage people to use their imagination when envisioning the future of Charlestown. Your views were both inspirational and extremely thoughtful, and are reflected throughout the Plan’s recommendations. 

In the Plan, you can expect to see distinct improvements or recommendations specific to the needs of Charlestown, like creating dozens of new acres of publicly accessible open space, including two full-size soccer fields available for multi-use purposes; up to three new free neighborhood transit shuttle bus routes; commitments towards arts & culture improvements; and much more. In addition, several recommendations are tactfully targeted to the Original Peninsula and are aimed at improving the quality of life for residents, such as: enhancing historic preservation tools, promoting affordable neighborhood retail along Charlestown’s main corridors, public school improvements, enhancing public and social services, and more. These are all ideas that came directly from Charlestown community members.

BPDA staff have convened City Departments, including Parks, Fire, Facilities, EMS, Arts & Culture, Boston Public Schools, and others, in public forums to ensure that this collective vision will be implemented with the help of all partners.

This week, the final draft of PLAN: Charlestown was released, and we want to hear what you think. The BPDA has commenced a 45-day comment period to welcome additional public input and feedback on PLAN: Charlestown. As this process wraps up, the BPDA will begin to consider Charlestown development projects that have been on hold for the last few years while the planning process took place. Proponents of development projects in the formerly industrial areas have been changing and adjusting their proposals in response to community feedback and recommendations emerging from the planning process. Proposals that comply with the plan’s emerging recommendations to grow Charlestown in a thoughtful way will be considered by the BPDA Board.

At the conclusion of this effort, the BPDA Board of Directors will vote on the adoption of the Plan, and if adopted, implementation will begin. The implementation of this plan will deliver new zoning, along with the resources, amenities and modifications that residents have been advocating for. We thank all of you for helping to improve your community through this process, and we look forward to continued collaboration over the coming months as we finalize PLAN: Charlestown and prepare for the implementation of its recommendations to shape smart, inclusive growth in Charlestown.

Arthur Jemison is Chief of Planning for the City of Boston and Director of the Boston Planning & Development Agency.

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