Councilor Edwards Letter to District 1
Building a New Neighborhood
The Boston Planning and Development Agency identifies Suffolk Downs as the largest proposed development in Boston's history. As your City Councilor, it has been my honor to engage with our community and demand a seat at the table for East Boston. I wanted to offer some reflections and to share with you my comment letter. (The formal comment period concluded on May 31, but you can still contact the BPDA to submit a comment, or reach out to my office with your thoughts.)
East Boston can benefit from development at Suffolk Downs, but in order to do so, we need to be intentional. Suffolk Downs must include housing affordable to our communities, bring jobs and workforce development opportunities to Bostonians who live here today, protect parks and open space in perpetuity and promote sustainable transportation. As a city, we also need to ensure this planning process meaningfully incorporates feedback from impacted residents.
“It is the single largest opportunity to grow the middle class in Boston"
-Lydia Edwards for The Bay State Banner
My office pressed for a longer comment period with the Boston Planning and Development Agency and saw it extended it from 60 to 90 days. We demanded the Planned Development Area filing, the "constitution" for development at the site, be translated into Spanish and made available to residents. We broke down details about the proposed plan into a shorter FAQ in English and Spanish, and organized community meetings, led by local residents, on affordable housing, good jobs, climate resiliency, homelessness and recovery services, and transportation at Suffolk Downs.
Our impact yielded an additional 250 people lending their voices to the public comment period. Through that process, we heard deep fears about the ongoing impacts of the housing and displacement crises, overwhelming support for the creation of living wage jobs, a strong desire to expand open space and recreational opportunities for East Boston residents, concern about transportation challenges and a need for new and expanded civic spaces, health care facilities and schools.
We also dug into data on East Boston today. East Boston is a neighborhood of big families, renters, people of modest means, immigrants and many residents of Limited English Proficiency. In order to ensure a place for Eastie families at Suffolk Downs, we need to ensure housing and economic opportunities are designed with today's residents in mind.
We looked at financial benefits to the city projected for Suffolk Downs as well as public mitigation requested of the developer by city and state agencies. We looked at the outcomes of Planned Development Areas in other parts of the city, such as Seaport Square, and asked residents how we could do better at ensuring community benefits are written in stone and endure the test of time.
I believe it's critical our mitigation for Suffolk Downs focuses on essentials, such as housing and transportation. Today, the proposal would have a private developer spend many millions to build out water and sewer systems, private roads and private parks, with terms of access and use that are to date unclear. It would also build out new lanes for Route 1A. Simultaneously, the developer has claimed they are incapable of producing more affordable housing, more sustainable development or higher wage standards.
I've asked for stakeholders to consider a deeper role for public involvement in the project, and for significant mitigation to be committed to housing affordability and ESOL classes in East Boston. I've offered numerous strategies for dedicating resources to these purposes. I've come out in strong opposition to expanding highways at a time we need to be reducing traffic congestion. I've asked the BPDA to engage in a fair housing review to ensure the development is truly open and accessible to all Bostonians. And I've asked that binding legal commitments around housing, transportation, open space and jobs to be visible to the community and available for comment - before they are voted on.
“I want to make sure that our community is part of this plan, and that they feel like they have a home at Suffolk Downs,”
-Lydia Edwards for The Boston Globe.
We should build Suffolk Downs - but I will keep fighting to ensure the largest development in Boston's history is one that builds on Boston's strengths and lifts up communities who live here today.