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This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

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Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

GREG GALER
Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

Recent preservation-related news , City Council, the BRA, and looking forward

December 30th, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

As 2013 has drawn to a close there has been rise in the coverage of historic preservation and preservation-related development issues in the press, particularly in the Boston Globe. These articles represent successes, challenges and failures, and helpful thoughts as we enter 2013 with a new administration at the helm.

Preservationists throughout the city appreciate the Globe’s recent editorial supporting our dismay of City Council decision to overturn the landmarking of Savin Hill’s Kehew-Wright House which I discussed in my last blog post.  ( http://tinyurl.com/qzdgkg7)

The Globe, as did we, questioned the reason behind the vote: “City Council engages in some landmark shenanigans” (12/26)  (http://tinyurl.com/mn8jjru)

This  loss for preservation at City Council gives rise to the question of how we move forward. Coupled with the opportunity of a new administration and calls of the Mayor Elect during the campaign to make major changes at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), one wonders “Ok, then what next?  How do we move forward in a positive way?”

Clearly the functions of the BRA – planning, economic development, and the management of the city’s growth need to continue. Call it whatever you want, BRA or otherwise. It’s not like these things shouldn’t occur. The question is how to make them function better. How to balance community needs and desires with the things developers and investors need to keep the city evolving and moving forward. How to limit politicization of the process, how to reduce unneeded delays and red tape without excluding neighborhood and advocate voices?

The Boston Globe has recently run several articles challenging the BRA process and highlighting several issues needing correction, including the rubber-stamp nature of the BRA board. We need a candid assessment of how the many public meetings truly affect the outcome, given that project proponents negotiate with the BRA for months and years to hone and make deals about a project long before public filings and notifications are made. By the time advocates and the community weigh into the process developer and city are already tired negotiation and compromise and feel like their deal is largely in place. This scenario typically leaves largely only scraps and minor adjustments open for change, and this is one reason why these community meetings  ultimately have limited impact and the community feels excluded.

See “BRA cuts deals at expense of affordable housing” by Sean Murphy (Globe 12/22) (http://tinyurl.com/n8ql97m)

Also see this letter in response “Forum after forum public left with feeling agency is not listening” (Globe 12/29) represents the opinion of many that the hearings have little if any impact on the end result.  (http://tinyurl.com/kfjnjnt)

James G. Kostaras’ editorial “Planning for a new day: Don’t throw out the BRA — use it to create a blueprint for Boston’s future” (Globe 12/18) (http://tinyurl.com/ns2wn9v) makes an on-target recommendation. The city needs more large-thinking planning.  He notes Boston hasn’t had a master plan update since 1965!  The Alliance supports efforts to reduce the project-by-project approval which is driven by the lack of up-to-date zoning, the lack of comprehensive planning, the lack of pre-identification of sensitive areas and properties. Without a plan and proper zoning each and every project is open for debate, dealing, and opportunities for too much political influence.  And it also leads to the long-drawn-out process over which everyone complains.

The Alliance joins its voice to those calling for more active, more comprehensive and more productive planning. In our case that means working with the new administration to identify historic buildings and landscapes of importance before they are proposed for change. The more we can highlight areas of concern in advance the fewer surprises and battles there will be and the process can move more efficiently forward. We also need new tools to cover the spectrum of historic resources. There are those for which the highest level of regulation of change is in order (think the Old State House or Faneuil Hall) and those for which a light touch of design guidelines allowing maximum flexibility make sense and of course there are many, many projects for which historical issues are irrelevant.

Let us enter 2013 with a promise to address these issues in a way that works better for all  and works better for the future of Boston.

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