Making Brickbottom: 2015 Neighborhood Plan*
Susan Silberberg, Faculty Advisor
The Brickbottom district of Somerville, MA is home to a variety of light industrial, commercial, and auto uses wedged between the McGrath elevated highway on one side, and rail lines on the other. The district is also hosts the Brickbottom Artists Building, a groundbreaking artist live-work 150 unit condominium completed in 1988, as well as the Joy Street Studios. The area is facing extraordinary opportunities in the very near future as it prepares for two major public-works projects: the replacement of McGrath Highway’s McCarthy Overpass with a ground-level boulevard and the construction of the Washington Street MBTA Station, as part of the Green Line Extension.
- How can growth and development in the Brickbottom District be true to the vision and goals of SomerVision—the comprehensive and innovative city-wide master plan?
- Can new transit-oriented-development (TOD) in the district reflect the “making” and “funky” character of Brickbottom and the city?
- How can new development avoid adding to the ongoing flooding problems of this low-lying area (the site of a former river) and provide innovative solutions to environmental issues that also enhance quality of life for residents?
- How can new development avoid displacing artists and makers and existing residents?
- What should McGrath Highway look like as an at-grade boulevard?
The challenges were met by embarking on a deep exploration of the unique characteristics of the district including the nature of “maker” uses in the city, and in exploring similar challenges and solutions in other areas of the country. The planning team embarked on extensive outreach to the community to test ideas and developed a hybrid plan that allows higher density commercial and resident space to co-exist with artist and maker space…requiring that new development provide the benefits of affordable space for these uses that are synonymous with this part of the city.
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- Recommended adding significant new residential, commercial, fabrication, and arts-related space.
- Created zoning and a development framework that protects and improves existing light industrial activities and jobs in the neighborhood.
- Developed guiding principles that ensure that this TOD district is unique—reflecting the unique aspects of Somerville that distinguish it from adjacent Cambridge and nearby Boston.
- Recommended shifting the roadway within the McGrath Highway right-of-way to create a de-elevated boulevard that provides a critical mass of open space along the highway.
*MIT “Community Growth and Land Use Planning” Practicum: Susan Silberberg and Terry Szold, faculty