Development a matter of quality, not quantity

September 12, 2008
By

Under pressure to solve its financial woes, the MBTA will be leasing and selling lots around the Forest Hills Station. Never mind that the income generated is insignificant compared to its $8.2 billion debt and interest payments as reported by the Boston Globe on Aug. 5, 2008.

These parcels were surely never intended as residential areas. The continuous traffic of commuter and Amtrak trains, including the high speed Acela Express, and the subway and buses all truly shake the ground and generate a prodigious amount of noise, day and night. The vibrations and noise are felt some blocks away, not just right there looking down the tracks!

Smart use for that land has clearly always been as a buffer zone. No surprise these lands were shown as green space in the 1980s Cambridge Seven Associates’ plan that built and designed the current station. This plan smartly continues the buffer zones around the Southwest Corridor into the station itself and protects the neighborhood from noise. Yet somehow the MBTA is now presenting a plan that negates the previous plan.

The rumble and bother for the prospective new residents, workers, and customers in these sites will no doubt be quite considerable. I doubt that the materials and engineering that might be used will handle these issues effectively—especially because I am sure that the developers will not spend most of their budget in noise and vibration control.

This makes it twice as outrageous to somehow condone such development under the guise of affordable housing. We should do better than to literally place subsidized housing by the railroad tracks in massive buildings with hundreds of units (200 by the station alone) teetering above two levels of parking lots.

Any development in the area should be scaled to the neighborhood’s character. Buildings should not exceed three stories (and yes, that would include any parking levels as well), and it should take architectural cues from the whimsical triple-deckers that surround the area.

And yes, such a plan should indeed include affordable housing. But those units would be decent and beautiful and would be homes, not warehouses. And indeed, this solid, long-term investment for a safe and self-maintaining community might actually cost us money! Yes, indeed, the City and the MBTA and the Boston Redevelopment Authority would have to invest money, as opposed to making money on this project.

The point is not how big and massive should this project be for it to become financially feasible and accommodate as much housing as possible. If we want a sustainable and beautiful community, we should think about investing, not making, money. Surely we can resize the project to a rational scale. JP and Boston have so far mostly succeeded on building a great city. Let this not be an exception.

Manuel Mendez
Jamaica Plain

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