Policy and Institutions

The Diamond Ring project opens new opportunities to address policy issues beyond transportation, including housing, the environment, and equitable economic development. Yet the potential to leverage synergies between these policy areas and maximize the impact of the project is limited by the current governmental structure in Massachusetts. We propose a state-sponsored convening body to implement the Diamond Ring, based on successful precedents in other places.


Housing: Transit improvements often raise property values. Diamond Ring planning must address displacement and affordable housing needs.

The Diamond Ring is not simply a transit project. It will have wider impacts beyond the mobility of residents and commuters. Ensuring that the improved transit service favors the communities throughout the corridor, rather than forcing them out of their homes, is of particular importance and must be considered as an integral part of the planning process. Each segment requires context-specific housing policy consideration:

  1. Somerville: Opportunity for affordable housing development, and preservation of existing affordable housing stock in East Somerville.
  2. Cambridge: Lack of affordable MIT graduate student (and faculty, staff) housing, and prevention of further displacement, especially in East Cambridge. We recommend that MIT dramatically increase its graduate student housing, and also provide additional options for faculty and staff. We see a unique opportunity to create a mixed-use, vibrant hub of development around Ft. Washington Park, which would be served by the Cambridgeport Diamond Ring station. Such development would not only provide students with attractive and affordable housing options near campus, but would also increase activity in the area with commercial services and retail. The rapid development around Kendall Square has resulted in gentrification. While this cannot be reversed, measures need to be taken to avoid further displacement from the area.
  3. Brookline: Adequate residential mix for new development. Since the Diamond Ring connects major employment centers such as Kendall and LMA, policies should encourage residential and mixed-use development along the corridor in order to connect employees to jobs, particularly in areas like segment 3 that have more commercial and institutional land use than residential. Affordable housing guidelines must also be put in place to ensure that all portions of the corridor are providing their share of affordable housing.One major development already underway is Parcel 7 near Fenway Stadium, discussed above. The proposed development will include office, residential, and retail space with connections to the Yawkey commuter rail station and the Green Line. Projects like this must be encouraged, as long as they balance new commercial space with residential uses and have appropriate connections to transit and the local pedestrian, bicycle, and roadway networks.
  4. Dudley: need to protect existing affordable housing and expand additional capacity in largely minority and low-income community which has been historically marginalized, and address gentrification and prevent displacement in Dudley Square

Environment: The Diamond Ring could be a model for coordinated environmental initiatives.

The Diamond Ring provides an opportunity to implement a place-based sustainability strategy that will focus on creating a baseline of green policies and practices that applies throughout the corridor. Currently, cities along the corridor have varying policies to promote environmental sustainability, but the effect of these policies has been geographically scattered and non-uniform (i.e. not all buildings meet a specific checklist of sustainable standards). By emphasizing environmental initiatives throughout the Diamond Ring, the region can develop a model of comprehensive environmental planning that will have positive spillover effects for the greater region.Specifically, sustainability strategies for new development development and the retrofit of existing buildings, which evidence suggests will be encouraged by the new transit corridor, should include standards for energy efficiency, stormwater management, bike parking, and travel demand management. These standards will help ensure that buildings along the corridor minimize their environmental impact, thereby maximizing the net environmental impact of the transit investment. Consistency throughout the corridor will also help create an integrated user experience, serving as a model for a place-based approach that incorporates the most recent innovations in sustainability into bus stop and station design, electric buses, and streetscape.

A key component of encouraging this environmentally-focused user experience is the Charles River waterfront.

Equitable Economic Development: The Diamond Ring development will create corridor-wide economic development opportunities.

The economic development strategy will build off the previous two elements by training residents for green sector jobs. Sustainability standards will create demand for services in the construction, building and trades, and consulting sectors. Additionally, the strategy will use the strategic location of the Diamond Ring to design a workforce development program that will serve as a pipeline to careers in the transportation industry. The following programs can advance this strategy:

  1. Pool linkage fees and other workforce development resources to develop comprehensive training programs. Boston has a linkage fee that goes to the Neighborhood Jobs Trust, Somerville is in the process of evaluating a linkage fee for jobs, and Cambridge funds workforce development programs, although not through a linkage fee. By combining resources from the municipal level with other funding sources, and streamlining program development, workforce training programs can eliminate redundancy while gearing programs towards current and future skills needs.
  2. As part of the implementation of the environmental sustainability strategy, collaboration with Roxbury Community College’s green technology programs (clean energy and weatherization) will bridge students with design, construction, and retrofit opportunities in the Diamond Ring
  3. Build off of the NSTAR model at Bunker Hill Community College to create a transportation maintenance and management training program that will strategically build off of the location of Inner Belt maintenance facilities. One of the primary concerns of Somerville residents is jobs, both the creation of jobs in the city and creating quality jobs that have good wages and the possibility for career advancement. Through the creation of an MBTA/ Bunker Hill Community College training program, there is the possibility to address the need for local, quality jobs. The training program would include a curriculum/classroom component as well as a training/apprenticeship component. The objective of the program is to address the anticipated future skill deficit the MBTA is facing in light of a retiring workforce by placing program graduates in MBTA jobs. Additionally, the program can leverage the locational benefit of BHCC and nearby maintenance facilities in Inner Belt, Charlestown and Everett. The curriculum could also include training for green technologies like electric buses, which are proposed for the Diamond Ring.

Collaboration in these policy areas is challenging because of constraints of the current government structure.

Current governmental structure

Current governmental structure

Integrated planning of the Diamond Ring BRT corridor involves multiple state agencies, municipalities, the MBTA, and other non-governmental stakeholders, such as major institutions like MIT and LMA. Transportation planning along the corridor should be comprehensive and multi-modal, especially taking non-motorized transportation into account. Existing state regional authorities, such as the MBTA, are poorly coordinated with housing and economic development agencies to address policy needs for comprehensive and equitable project delivery.

Additionally, local power and authority to design such integrated plans and policies are severely limited by the state government. Massachusetts state home rule legislation grants municipalities in the Boston metropolitan region very limited local autonomy. Massachusetts explicitly denies local governments the ability to tax and borrow. It affords its towns and cities minimal local authority to design regulations and policies around local land use, affordable housing policy, and school reform, for example. Meaningful changes to this structure in service to regional planning must address the state’s integral role in local decision-making.

We propose a state-sponsored convening body to implement the Diamond Ring.

As a trial model for comprehensive, regional planning and implementation, a convening body under state authority would link regional needs and decision-making with the necessary state authorization. To be politically palatable to the state, this should be framed as a trial model for specific projects with regional interests and implications. This model could later be adapted to regional projects in other parts of the state.

Proposed convening body structure

Proposed convening body structure

This convening body would play a wide range of organizational and managerial roles:

  • Identify stakeholders for collaborative visioning and planning process
  • Streamline project goals with key state criteria
  • Develop financial strategy and allocate funding, as proposed by finance working group:
    • Coordinate state funding sources, such as Commonwealth Transportation Trust Fund and Massachusetts Transportation Trust Fund
    • Have the authority to issue bonds
    • Coordinate TIF financing through a TIF district within an established geographic area concentrated around the Diamond Ring corridor
  • Identify legal needs, which would be granted by the state
  • Oversee implementation
  • Set targets from the outset, perform evaluation and benchmarking, enforce clawback provisions and penalties for poor performance
  • Act as a coordinator and redistributor of resources and knowledge for the life of the project

 

Similar ideas have worked in other places.

There are several relevant models in the U.S. Nationally, a good example of a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary approach is the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which is a grant-making collaboration among the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Transportation. Locally, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) promote economic development in a commercial area. This model is particularly useful because BIDs can collect fees from members via the property tax system, though each BID is generally contained within a single municipality. Finally, Development Authorities are temporary bodies created to administer a specific project, typically transportation-related and often multi-jurisdictional, and to finance that project by issuing bonds. All of these examples have significant limits on their regulatory and enforcement power, a limitation that would need to be overcome in adapting the models to the context of the Diamond Ring project.

International examples also provide a model. In Australia, the Sydney Olympic Park Authority (SOPA) was created through a legislative act to promote, coordinate and manage the development of Sydney Olympic Park following the 2000 Summer Olympics, and in 2009 the Park became its own suburb. Brazil offers another example of a governing body created to manage development around the Olympics. Rio de Janeiro’s Cdurp (regional urban development company) was created through local legislation with the purpose of encouraging real estate, economic, and social development in the old industrial and port area of the city. A third example comes from Spain, where 22@barcelona was created by the city council as a municipally owned company in 2000 to assess plans and projects, with a focus on creating an innovation district in a traditional industrial neighborhood. While the legal complexities are different in every situation, the fact that these projects have been successful may increase acceptance for a similar trial project for the Diamond Ring.

Planners are more frequently taking on the role of conveners and coordinators in addition to providing technical expertise. These planners are accustomed to working with collaborations among public, private, and nonprofit entities. There is a growing trend towards “networked governance,” where planning is done collaboratively by many stakeholders rather than in a top-down manner. This can both threaten and strengthen democratic aims by encouraging broader participation while making governing bodies less accountable through elected officials. These networks should therefore be evaluated on the basis of inclusiveness, transparency, accountability, public involvement and participation, and meta-governance (control by elected officials) (Nyseth 2009).

There are still many questions that need to be answered before this idea could be implemented.

  • What is the best way to make this happen in the current political climate? Will the legislature approve a pilot project that only affects the Boston area?
  • Will local governments participate willingly, or will they see this as a challenge to their local authority?
  • Will this body have staff of its own, or will it use existing staff from other agencies?
  • Can NGOs and institutions be a full part of a legislatively-created governing body?
  • What should the geographic boundary be for a Diamond Ring development district?
  • What other legal barriers have to be overcome?
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