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What's Hurting Hub's Long-Term Plans: It's the Politics, Stupid

We damn near stood and applauded at the end of this one: Harvard's Edward Glaeser has written a cogent, forceful op-ed for The Globe about what's wrong with the Hub's long-term development and how to fix it. See, it's not that people don't want to "give something a little bit better to our grandchildren." We all do. It's that a lot of us are freaked out by tall buildings in our neighborhoods, and politicians know that.

Take the battle in Central Square (please). There, residents successfully rose up and defeated plans for developer Forest City Ratner to build a 95-foot commercial building at 300 Mass. Ave. and a 165-foot residential building at at Sidney and Green streets (current zoning allows for 80 feet). It's one small step for the NIMBY-ists, one giant leap for Hub development—except we often don't see the giant leap until years later and, only then, in hindsight.

Each independent land-use decision can seem like a wonky event, interesting only to neighbors, developers, and the occasional housing economist. ... But these individual decisions add up and collectively shape our region. In effect, our metropolitan planning is being implemented at the sidewalk level, by abutters who see the downside of every project and who can't possibly be expected to take the larger view. And god help you if you try to change hearts and minds—namely, if you try to convince people of the longer-term efficacy of building bigger and denser, of foregoing the preservation of triple-deckers just for triple-deckers' sake (an actual policy of the City of Boston), of thinking multifamily for developeable sites rather than another single-family.

Only politics prevents our city-building. During the 20th century, we made grave, if understandable, errors in urban planning. In 1904, Boston limited building heights to125 feet. The city has loosened up since then, but significantly taller buildings generally require complicated variances. The recent Cambridge battles, meanwhile, remind us that residents still fear towers, despite their capacity to provide abundant and attractive homes and offices. Glaeser then calls for a debate on the 50-year vision for Greater Boston. Meanwhile, prices go up, families move elsewhere, and we earnestly debate where a 30-year-old can get a decent mimosa 'round here.

· Urban Planning in Greater Boston Needs to Aim Higher [Globe]
· What We Don't Talk About Re: Cambridge Development [Curbed Boston]
· Spare a Thought for the Triple-Decker—Effort to Save Icon [Curbed Boston]
· Why the Hub Housing Market Could Get Worse, Much Worse [Curbed Boston]
· Group Wanting to Make Boston Hip Loves Boston the Way It Is [Curbed Boston]
· Boston Is for Lovers (Just Not Their Kids): a New Apt. Dynamic [Curbed Boston]

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