Monday, May 25, 2020

Somerville Success

As part of the CitiesX course I am taking online, I very much enjoyed this 2018 with Joe Curtatone, the mayor of Somerville, Massachusetts.



I learned some interesting things about a city near Boston I have visited only a few times, and I recommend the discussion for anybody who is trying to imagine improving how their own communities work.

The mayor's approach to leadership is also refreshing -- it involves long-term, deep listening. His discussion with Professor Ed Glaeser is short on details, but he references another talk that provides some more specific examples of how Somerville has succeeded. That talk was easy to find -- city planner George Proakis addressing a TEDx Somerville event in 2014.

Proakis starts with a fascinating primer on the origins of urban zoning in the United States before turning to a discussion of the process Somerville pursued in changing its zoning code that year. Spoiler alert: both talks include a gem that should be obvious, but sadly is not: if we plan our cities for cars, we are going to get cars. We cannot plan for cars and hope for walkability!



Bonus: Proakis mentions Artisans Asylum as an example of an enterprise that would be difficult to categorize under traditional zoning rules. It is the first makerspace I heard of, and traditional zoning struggles with whether to call these education spaces or manufacturing spaces. I learned of Artisans Asylum when my son had an internship there -- in teaching the tenants how to use the equipment, he developed skills that have been very useful to him as an artist.

I have not gotten to them in the course yet, but at least three other videos relate to Somerville: Happiness Survey, Green Line, Gentrification.

Lagniappe

One of the ways to tell that Somerville is succeeding is that it has an extraordinary array of coffee shops -- a friend who used to live there has introduced me to a couple of them. I look forward to visiting again after the plague, to see how coffee fits into the Assembly Square area in particular.

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