We’ve discussed the proposed Taft Hill development several times here and we support the project. This afternoon, the proposal, which requires numerous zoning variances (among others, the project provides 1.0 rather than the required 2.0 parking spaces per unit), was heard by the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal and unanimously approved. Several WalkUP Roslindale members spoke in favor of the project, as did representatives from the offices of the Mayor, City Councillor Michelle Wu, and City Councillor Tim McCarthy. No one at the hearing opposed the project. We expect the developer to break ground this spring.
Official WalkUP Roslindale Comment Letter – 20 Taft Hill Park
Today, we sent another comment letter on a proposed development in Roslindale Square. The project is a 19-unit condominium complex a few yards away from the commuter rail station and the business district. Because we believe this sort of transit-oriented development will contribute to a more walkable and vibrant neighborhood, and particularly in view of some of the developer’s creative pro-WalkUP proposal elements (dedicated bicycle storage, car-share service credits, and support for the Roslindale Arboretum Gateway Path initiative), we generally support the project. There is still room for improvement, however, as detailed in our full comment letter below.
We hope many of you will agree with some if not all of the points made below. Either way, however, we’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.
Umbrellas Don’t Cause Rain
Notable economics writer Matt Yglesias provides a pithy analysis of the relationship between housing prices and construction in his newsletter published today. Yglesias writes:
I observed on Twitter the other day that there’s a shockingly widespread belief that banning new construction will prevent increases in the price of housing, and that lead to some pushback that was more interesting than I’d anticipated and is worth addressing specifically.
Umbrellas don’t cause rain
But before getting into the specific points, I do think it’s worth focusing on the core fallacy that drives some of this. People look around and see that in neighborhoods where prices are going up, there’s generally highly visible new construction — cranes putting up largish buildings — and think the construction is driving neighborhood change.
This is a bit like thinking that umbrellas cause rain because every time you see everyone carrying them it rains.
Construction — especially of high-rise buildings — is expensive and people are only going to do it in places where demand is high and prices are on the rise. By the same token, brand-new construction commands a price premium so the just-built thing always targets a more upscale market than the average neighborhood resident. Your city’s stock of cheaper housing consists almost exclusively used to be new but aren’t anymore. But the presence of new expensive buildings isn’t making older buildings more expensive. It’s the fact that older buildings are getting more expensive that leads people to build new buildings.
Yglesias then goes on to explain why banning new projects won’t achieve the goal of preserving a neighborhood’s character or preventing gentrification and the rise in housing costs.
As we engage as a community to debate construction proposals in and around Roslindale, we would be well advised to keep this insight in mind.
Housing as Economic Imperative
WBUR reports today on a Metropolitan Area Planning Council presentation to state lawmakers on the dire need for housing supply to sustain the economy:
By 2040, Massachusetts will need about half a million additional residential units, analysts told lawmakers Tuesday as they advocated for increased housing production to go along with the state’s growing economy.
Metropolitan Area Planning Council assistant data services director Tim Reardon said most of this housing demand will be in urban areas, and two-thirds of it will be for multifamily housing, a type of development limited or discouraged in much of the state.
We recognize that development to accommodate new residents is often a controversial topic — in Roslindale and just about everywhere else in Greater Boston. Even where people recognize the crisis in general, they would much prefer that the solution happen somewhere else. But the need is there and the development will happen whether we like or not.
We do, however, have a critical choice to make: are we going to add another million cars to our already fully maxed out transportation infrastructure (2 cars per new housing unit) — another three or four million free parking spaces? An extra hour (or two) added to the car commute downtown from inner ring suburbs?
Or we can go in another direction, and build with a dedicated focus on pedestrian/bike/transit access, and enhance all those other modes of moving around so that people who prefer not to be stuck in a motor vehicle for hours a day aren’t forced to.
Development, walkability, and vibrant streets and communities all can go hand-and-hand. Rather than fight to stop every new project, we believe we should speak up to make every new project better for the community. We’re working on some development principles that we think will advance this goal, and hope our neighbors will join us in refining and then advancing those principles.
- Land-use planner Victor Gruen estimates that every car has at least one parking space at home and three or four waiting elsewhere to serve the same car; Centers for the Urban Environment: Survival of the Cities, 1973, page 89; Further info: Podcast on the Gruen Effect↵