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 incrementally to the region’s many dowtowns and village centers, which are walkable and well-served by public transportation, and to toss larger projects to the municipal peripheries, especially to parcels that are fenced in between highways, tracks, and water. If it were feasible, we would be building in the highway cloverleaves. Route 128 runs along municipal edges.
It is estimated that Greater Boston needs hundreds of thousands of new homes to shelter everyone who would like to live here and to stabilize home prices. Our current plan is not getting us there, or to a less car-dependent layout.
Take Needham as an example. Approximately 15 years ago, people in Needham began planning to allow more housing in Needham Center. Their plans originated in a movement that promotes transit-oriented development (TOD) — building in walkable, vibrant, connected places, where it should be nice to live, and where you do not need your car for every excursion from your home. Needham Center has a train station, an excellent selection of restaurants, an old-time hardware store, a brick Georgian Revival town hall, and a white steeple church. On its green, you will find frolicking kids, perhaps some real ones and definitely the sculpted bronze metal ones.
A decade ago, the Town of Needham revised its zoning to allow more housing in the center. Since then, the Town has permitted one project, with ten units, in the center. Meanwhile, in the last few years, Needham has permitted three projects on the edge of town…