5 questions about Boston’s master planning process

Mayor Marty Walsh announced “Imagine Boston 2030’’ in May.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced Imagine Boston 2030 in May.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced Imagine Boston 2030 in May. –The Boston Globe

For the first time in a half-century, Boston is undergoing a citywide planning effort.

Mayor Marty Walsh’s “Imagine Boston 2030’’ master planning process is meant to provide a long-term “physical vision of the city’’ that incorporates housing, transportation, open spaces, development, and more, according to Sara Myerson, who is leading the process.

Walsh announced Imagine Boston 2030 in May. It kicked off in earnest this fall with a campaign to get initial input from citizens about what they’d like to see done or changed in Boston. The city is taking input via a text message campaign, and through its website.

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Early next year, the city will release draft goals for the plan based on the initial feedback and seek further public comment, Myerson said. A draft of the citywide plan is expected by the end of 2016, and the final plan is scheduled to be produced by mid-2017.

Myerson originally joined City Hall to lead Walsh’s Office of Olympic Planning, and was moved to Imagine Boston 2030 after the city’s Olympic bid collapsed in the summer. She was joined by Jerome Smith, the city’s chief of civic engagement, to talk about what a city planning process means, and where it will go from here.

The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Why do a master plan?

Myerson: We’re in a really fortunate position as a city that’s growing, that has a lot of investment coming in and that is thriving.

We want to make sure we’re not just growing, but we’re growing resiliently, we’re growing smart, and we’re growing into the city that we truly want to be. We have a moment in time where we can all sit back as a city and have a conversation about what we want to look like as a city.

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Does that mean everything’s on hold until the plan is in place?

Myerson: There’s pressure to keep on moving, and I think the mayor is very cognizant of those, at times, challenging pressures. We have the challenging task of making sure we’re continuing to move forward with that growth right now, but at the same time, thinking about planning for the future and shaping what that looks like.

Development is not going to stop over the next two years. I don’t think we think about this as a pause, it’s a plan going on alongside development.

So what if something underway now conflicts with the goals of the plan down the road?

Myerson: We’ll have goals that we’re working towards that are established before the plan is done. We would then want to be making sure that any development that is occurring in the city is consistent with wherever we are so far in the planning process to avoid those types of pitfalls.

We have development that is going on in the city, and the development timeframes are a long time as well. So we have a sense of what is currently in the pipeline and what could be emerging from the pipeline going forward.

Smith: Sara early on identified that pulling a lot of [existing neighborhood-by-neighborhood] plans off the shelves and incorporating them into the master plan was important, because it shows to the community that their engagement of planning before is not going to be wiped out by the plan.

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The last time the city did a master plan, major structures came out of it—including City Hall. Do you see that happening this time?

Myerson: Rather than thinking about one discrete structure, I think what we’ll be thinking about is how we’re growing and evolving our neighborhoods.

There may be neighborhoods that are close to what we think of as a complete neighborhood. There may be other neighborhoods where we think about more robust growth and really creating a new neighborhood that has some of that mobility.

So what we hope to set forth from this is the key growth areas as well as the key stability areas, and then a framework for what that growth looks like and what that stability looks like.

The public really didn’t like the city’s ill-fated Olympic bid, which involved a lot of development planning. How will this be different?

Smith: The Olympics was us bringing a massive event to the city of Boston that was going to have impacts. We’re asking residents what they want to see their city look like. So you’re not seeing Twitter protests outside our open houses.

Myerson: The Olympics certainly got a lot of energy around the city. There was a component that was development of certain areas. It got people thinking about the future of the city, what the city might look like. But what we’re doing here is starting the conversation in a very different place. We’re asking everyone to join the conversation, to start interacting with us about what they envision for the city, their goal for the city, before we determine what the city will look like.

There are areas in our city where there’s still uncertainty. Allston. Widett Circle [and the area surrounding it]. Columbia Point. You have areas around the Fairmount Corridor. The planning process is intended to help address some that uncertainty and think about what allows us to have more predictability as we move forward.

The South Boston waterfront over time:

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