To give them a boost, end policies that codify car worship

Winchester Center

[This article appears in CommonWealth Magazine.]

Coming from Newton I should have known that Greater Boston has hundreds of wonderful little downtowns and village centers, the hearts of walkable neighborhoods. Newton itself has 13 villages. I grew up walking to downtown Newtonville for blue slush puppies and books at the branch library, now a senior center. In my 30s, I lived by West Newton Square, where I’d walk to the train, synagogue, Comella’s, ice cream, and artsy movies. Now I’m back in Newtonville, still a stroll to many things I need and like.

I had figured Newton was special. Then…

QUICK QUIZ: What is the biggest growth district in Massachusetts outside of the city of Boston right now?

Did you guess Kendall Square? Cambridge Crossing? Somerville’s Union Square? Watertown’s Arsenal Street? Quincy Center? Lynn’s waterfront? Revere Beach? Woburn’s Commerce Way? Waltham along Route 128?

By my read, it is a place without an identity or united governance, a district that straddles the Mystic and Malden Rivers at the intersection of six cities: Everett, Medford, Somerville, Chelsea, Malden, and also a bit of Boston, at Charlestown.

The area made headlines recently for the proposed Sky Everett, a 21-story residential tower. Not…

This story appeared in WBUR’s Cognoscenti.


The arc of the moral universe bends along the quiet residential roads of Greater Boston.

It curves through Reading, a railroad suburb on Route 128, described in its 2005 town plan as “a daily refuge from the pressures, impersonality, and uncertainties of modern urban life.” According to the plan, Reading’s residents judge changes to the town against their ideal image of Reading “as a peaceable, family-oriented, single-family suburban residential community.”

Reading’s residents are not alone in their bias for single-family houses. The vast majority of land in Boston’s suburbs is zoned for and…

In Greater Boston, you can find buildings dressed for the prom, in hand beaded ball gowns and the spiffiest of tuxedos. But here’s a little slide show to honor buildings that are dressed down — or dressed up quirky. Here’s to the Duckies of Greater Boston’s architecture prom.

[This story also appears in CommonWealth Magazine.]

The design dilemma for America’s current generation of city builders is what to do about cars, and in particular parking. Our most beloved places were built before cars became the common person’s primary means for autonomy and travel. And auto-emissions are bringing climate change. Yet reversion to car-free design is not yet feasible for most places.

Both government regulation and market demand have reinforced a car-as-king development pattern. Decades ago, in the drive thru era, city and town leaders retrofitted public parking into downtowns originally laid out for people arriving on foot or…

Wellesley Office Park

There has been a lot of press about Greater Boston’s housing shortage and growth pains. The suburbs are over-restricting development. Home prices are escalating. And still, traffic is stealing family dinners and putting jobs at risk.

What has garnered less attention is Greater Boston’s plan for growth — what the plan is, and what it should be. No place in Greater Boston is aching more for attention — for leadership and a plan — than the Route 128 corridor, the thrumming artery of Greater Boston’s geographic center.

Greater Boston’s current, de facto plan for growth is primarily to add housing…

I’ve been touring Greater Boston with my kids, and here are some of my favorite excursions. Some are off-the-beaten-path, and many reflect my particular interest in urban/suburban planning.

I welcome your recommendations as well.

1. Zimman’s and murals in Lynn

Lynn’s Zimman’s is a fantasy in fabric rolls, a color therapy in silk and cotton, the largest fabric store in the Northeast. The color therapy then continues outside. The brick walls of Lynn’s antique downtown are now splashed in colorful paint, epic murals. The downtown is a museum turned inside out, scaled huge, and made free — a museum where…

[This story also appears on Commonwealth Magazine:]

Hovering by the fairytale playground, by the pumpkin carriage and turreted castles, behind the swings, was a wall of murky glass, an abandoned factory. There were no other factories around my childhood park in Newtonville, just a pleasing selection of unique houses, arranged along sidewalks that led to a village center with a candy shop and train stop.

Back then, my favorite stories involved pumpkin carriages. Now I am more focused on stories about zoning policy, so I started wondering about that spooky factory by the swings.

Zoning came to fame in…

This article was posted to MetroWest Daily News.

For decades, housing experts and planners have been advocating for cities and towns allow for the owners of single family houses to add accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to their properties. The recommendation has been listed in most master plans and housing plans, going back decades. Yet only 37 out of 100 cities and towns in Greater Boston allow for ADUs to be put in and rented out.

Greater Boston needs much more housing, perhaps hundreds of thousands of new houses, apartments, and condos. The most conservative policy for adding more housing to…

This article is also posted on CommonWealth Magazine.

Greater Boston is adding jobs and population, but not enough housing, and too much traffic. How do we accommodate development to improve our lives? A proving ground for aspiring city builders is at the intersection of the Mystic River and Malden River, at the edges of Somerville, Everett, Medford, and Malden.

Across Greater Boston, find any parcel of land fenced in between highways, tracks, and water, on the edge of town, and there you will likely see big development. …

Amy Dain

Public policy research: housing and land use, data use in public management, and environmental issues. Greater Boston. Instagram, Twitter: @amydain

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