Here are 10 reasons to be optimistic about the region heading into 2020.
The for-sale housing market is stabilizing. Time was the Boston-area housing market was best-known for steadily escalating prices, vicious bidding wars, and often lackluster inventory. That has started to change, with prices peaking (and receding) in many areas and new construction opening up a lot more options for those in the hunt, according to reports—which should make prospective buyers and their brokers optimistic.
Housing is still very much in demand. Sellers shouldn’t rend their garments, though. Housing is still very much in demand, and sales have been steady. If you’re selling now or soon—especially if you bought years ago—expect a healthy return.
There is a reckoning on housing. There is a debate at every level of government now about how to build the housing—particularly the multifamily rental housing—that the region needs to keep up with demand. This includes debate on ideas as varied as Governor Charlie Baker’s proposal that would make it easier for localities to alter zoning rules to facilitate new housing and a proposal to bring a form of rent control to a Massachusetts that’s been without it since the early 1990s. None of these ideas are a surefire solution by themselves—and some, like rent control, are quite controversial—but residents should be optimistic about the debate itself. There’s no going back.
Construction everywhere, it seems. Speaking of the need for housing and the response to that need, the region’s historic building boom continues apace. Major and minor projects dot the landscape, including redevelopments of big parking garages—and smaller parking lots—to the second tallest partly residential tower in the U.S. north of New York City (itself the second act for a former parking garage). It seems no neighborhood or area is void of at least a proposal for new construction, much of it involving a housing component.
Parks and public space in general are a priority. In May, the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit, announced that every Bostonian lived within a 10-minute walk—or roughly a half-mile—of a public park, a milestone that only one other major U.S. city (San Francisco) had achieved. The announcement underscored the growing prevalence of public space—plazas, paths, playgrounds, etc.—in general throughout the region. At the same time, serious park improvements, perhaps most prominently to Boston Common, are underway. And just look at the growing number of pedestrian plazas built from vehicular roadways.
The T is expanding. It’s easy to be pessimistic about the region’s mass transit system—very easy. But the Silver Line has expanded, and may expand again, and the Green Line extension through Somerville into Medford is on pace to wrap in 2021. And transit officials are rolling out improvements to bus service, including new routes based on ridership data and new dedicated bus lanes. Such changes are having real results—in particular, speeding up commutes. Riders should be optimistic that, while far from ideal, the T is (always) getting there.
Everyone talks about how terrible the traffic is. This is another one where the pessimism should breed optimism. That is, the region’s already notoriously bad traffic has gotten that much worse this decade—due largely to a growing population, which in turn is due largely to a strong local economy—that numerous ideas are now on the table about how to alleviate the congestion. It’s like the housing crisis, but with cars. Improved highways, updated bridges, congestion pricing, more micromobility, a telecommuting tax credit, the aforementioned expanded mass transit—it’s all out there in a bid to do something about all of the 90-minute drives.
A real bike culture has emerged. This goes along with the above, but it also goes beyond it. Biking has boomed in popularity in the Boston region in the past several years and is continuing to boom, with new dedicated lanes and other safety measures and a proliferation in bike-shares and bike-share usage. Indeed, Bluebikes, the region’s largest and oldest bike-share (dating from way back in 2011), notched its 10 millionth ride in September. And, as for safety measures, Cambridge in April became the first U.S. city to mandate a connected network of permanent, protected bike lanes throughout its footprint.
Climate change mitigation is very much on the agenda. A study released at the start of the year concluded that the Boston area will feel like the Baltimore area climate-wise by 2080 if the current pace of global warming continues unchecked. Well, the region’s public and private sectors are trying to check it—or at least its effects—in myriad ways, a cause for optimism for anyone who likes the climate and the sea levels here just the way they are. Boston proper has committed to trying for carbon-neutrality by midcentury, including through retrofitting tens of thousands of buildings to run on electric power.
We’re part of the national debate. While not quite the Hub of yore, Boston and its surrounding region are toward the forefront of many issues with national and international resonance. Combating climate change is probably the most prominent example, but the region is innovating and adapting, publicly and privately, in a number of ways and fields, from tech and biotech to transportation to park development to work-life balance. Smile.