A Vision and Plan for the Union Square Gateway in Somerville*
Susan Silberberg, Faculty Advisor
In the next few years, the Green Line MBTA service will be extended to include a transit stop in Union Square, Somerville. While Union Square is a thriving main streets commercial district, the area along the existing rail right-of-way between the proposed Green Line station and the McGrath Highway has a very different character. Big box stores, storage warehouses, asphalt parking lots, auto-dependent uses, and light industrial buildings dot the landscape. With the coming transit station, this area is well-poised to be the site of significant transit-oriented development (TOD).
- What should be the character of the new Union Square Gateway neighborhood of Somerville?
- How can this TOD neighborhood help Somerville capture a good share of new jobs and economic development in the region while retaining the overall spirit and character of 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 the Union Square gateway area serve the existing pockets of residential uses while showcasing innovative approaches to climate change adaptation, increased density and walkability, and job creation for city residents?
Challenges were met by conducting detailed field work and inventories that mapped historical data such as topographic changes, the path of the river, ownership history and the nature of the industrial and “back-office” uses that existed in the study area. The existing political context was explored, community meetings held to discuss the goals of residents and building owners, and relevant case studies were examined to provide a framework for innovative solutions to challenging environmental and economic issues. The resulting “Vision and Plan for the Union Square Gateway” divided the large study area into sub-sections so that recommended development enhances the existing character, were appropriate, and addresses flooding and resident concerns.
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- Divided the Gateway study area into six distinct areas to recognize the unique character of the different parts of the district:
- The Green Gateway
- Boynton Yards
- The Community Center
- The Central Gateway
- New Industry
- Twin City
- Transformed key opportunity areas to serve as economic engines to complement the neighborhoods of Somerville and help Somerville become a more business-friendly city
- Provided the framework for a thoughtfully designed, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use TOD that focuses on green infrastructure, a diverse mix of uses, and increased accessibility for all
- Linked Somerville’s corridors, squares and growth districts to ensure new Gateway area TOD benefits those beyond the study area boundaries
*MIT “Community Growth and Land Use Planning” Practicum: Susan Silberberg and Terry Szold, faculty