The People's Guide is Curbed Boston's tour of neighborhoods, led by our most loyal readers, favorite bloggers, and other luminaries of our choosing. Have a piece to say? We'll be happy to hand over the megaphone. Today, we turn things over to Matt Ehrie, general manager of Somerville's Assembly Row, which won the 2015 Curbed Cup!
Tell us something we don't know about Assembly Row.
We think Assembly Row is one of the biggest comeback stories in this region, if not country. Once the state's biggest brownfields site, a place devoid of sustainable development and with a riverfront fenced off from the community, Assembly Row has become a popular destination for people from all over Greater Boston for living, shopping and entertainment, working and relaxing. And it is all still growing.
This revitalization and real gumption has always been in Assembly Row's DNA. A place that was always centered around building things together with the goal of improving the lives of others - ships being built, cars being assembled and steel to build our cities and, now, retail for the community.
Assembly Row is the result of years of hard work—in both the traditional and non-traditional sense of "work." The Row is the result of Somerville's vision to create a neighborhood that would serve the city and its people for generations to come, while acting as a catalyst for growth around it. Looking back at the history of Assembly, we see decades of industry and think of the stories of thousands of Somervillians and Greater Bostonians. When thinking of the Assembly Row neighborhood, you're reminded of the workers from the factories and job sites that were once here. Assembly has always been about people coming together to do or make something for others.
Ten years ago, this land lay fallow—a shopping center that lost its shine with a large, overgrown brownfield and riverfront that was fenced off from the community, and in many ways forgotten.
Today, the vision has begun to take shape. The gritty, come-from-behind, 44-acre parcel of fenced-off land now is now home to more than 800 people living on it, over 1,500 people working daily, with thousands more people visiting to enjoy a reclaimed riverfront with their family and friends; and the "work" that has and will be done here—from office space, retail, construction and more—will bring thousands more people back to its land.
When all construction is done on Assembly Row, the neighborhood "reborn" can be home to over 3,500 residents, 8,000 office workers, 4,000 retail employees, and a vision of a well-planned neighborhood a reality for thousands of visitors to enjoy. It is a new stomping ground for Somerville and, in many ways, Assembly Row is a story of comeback, pride and our continued focus on the future.
Do you need a car to get around?
Definitely not. Assembly Row remains one of the most accessible destinations in Greater Boston, whether that's by train, bike, foot—or car. From the beginning, [developer] Federal Realty went above and beyond to work with Somerville, the commonwealth, on local, state and federal levels, to ensure Assembly Row would be accessible via Assembly Station on the Orange Line, which drops people right at the neighborhood's doorstep (and future heart of the neighborhood).
We also see many people utilizing the bike lanes and bike path in Baxter Park to get here. Our sidewalks are purposefully built to be wider than a standard sidewalk so pedestrians are encouraged to walk around and not feel crowded. If people drive to get here, they only need to park once, since a vehicle isn't needed to access various parts of the neighborhood.
Along the same lines, how busy is the Orange Line stop?
It's only based on observations, as the MBTA manages the stop, but it seems to be a popular way to get here. We see people using it to take advantage of outlet shopping so close to the city. We see others using it to grab a great meal, catch a movie—or both. The T station was such an important and integral piece to unlocking this land, and it helped Somerville to gain access to the rest of Greater Boston within minutes. Our residents are closer to downtown Boston than most residents of Boston.
There are a few.
1. All of Assembly Row's stores are outlets. We still hear surprise from those who haven't yet been here. And that's probably because they look nothing like what we have all come to expect of outlet shopping over the years. They are the brands that Greater Boston loves but with amazing price tags—J. Crew, Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, Nike ... and more to come as the neighborhood grows and unfolds with more residential, office, entertainment and restaurants. Assembly Row has taken a traditional retail approach and flipped it on its head.
2. We love our history—and it shows up in big and small ways across the Row. The huge metal trusses, which stand at the amphitheater outside of River Bar and serve as something of a sentinel for the Row, were reclaimed from the Central Steel building that once stood in Assembly and serve as recognition of our past and the gateway to the future. Within Phase 2, additional trusses will bookend the neighborhood as it unfolds to further embrace its industrial past and those that came before us. Assembly Square has its name thanks to the Ford Assembly Plant that stood here from 1926 to 1958. This was the only place where the Ford Edsel was fully built and assembled. You'll see other nods to the Ford plant embedded within our brick walls, such as the Edsel emblem outside of Earls.
3. There's nothing quite like open-air eating, especially overlooking the water. Assembly Row offers several options that answer any palette, all of which open out to, or have seating that overlooks, the Mystic River. French pastries at PAUL, a beer and a game at Tony C's, margaritas at Papagayo, seafood at Legal on the Mystic, eclectic menus at Earls and River Bar…the list goes on. And outdoors aren't exclusive to summer. Photos from the fire pit at River Bar fill up Instagram feeds all winter long.
The neighborhood in five years—what it will it look and feel like?
A neighborhood. It will continue to develop over the next five years, but much like today, Assembly Row residents, workers and the community will always enjoy a strong sense of neighborhood. Yoga on the river, 5K races, Assembly Farmer's Market, movie nights under the stars, warm nights around the fireplaces with friends, and more. All opportunities to live a life more enjoyed and connected in every sense of the word (to others and to Boston).
Over the course of this year, we will see the opening of Partners Healthcare's corporate campus, bringing nearly 5,000 employees to the neighborhood. As 2017 unfolds, an additional 200,000 square feet of retail, entertainment and restaurants will be added. An independent hotel with 155 rooms, 447 apartments, and 143 condominiums will bring additional neighbors to our current 800 residents that are already here. Beyond that, Federal Realty plans to build more office and residential buildings as the market demands.
The feel of Assembly Row will evolve as the population becomes more dense, and while it is new construction rising from what once was a brownfield, a lot of personal effort and planning is put behind the programs and its construction to make sure the neighborhood is as authentic, quirky and "so-Somerville" as it can be. The City of Somerville will also be focused on the neighborhood's evolution, with the potential to see other builders, owners and residents invest in the Assembly district, building off the momentum of Assembly Row.
What's not-so-swell about the neighborhood? And what might change that?
1. History. This is a growing neighborhood being built on the foundation of a vision crafted by a passionate community. It will take time. It will never feel like many of its peer neighborhoods that are steeped in 1800s or early-1900s architecture and the things that make those neighborhoods "feel" the way they do. But we also think that Assembly Row provides some of the amenities and accessibility that people are asking for and that are difficult to create elsewhere. Time will enhance the experience, one that will be uniquely Assembly and intertwined with Somerville.
2. Growth. Construction, new and changing parking options, new city blocks with new offerings are all on the horizon. While these can be challenging in the short term, they demonstrate the exciting new options that are ahead for our residents, shoppers, visitors and workers. Thankfully, Assembly Row has amazing residents, a community around it that is rooting for it, a visionary city government, a great start with what's here already, and a new T station to boot.
· Greater Boston's Neighborhood of the Year: Assembly Row! [Curbed Boston]
· Our complete Assembly Row coverage [Curbed Boston]
[Photos courtesy of Assembly Row]