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5 Boston-area real estate trends that need to continue in the 2020s

Transit-oriented development, regional cooperation, the repurposing of parking lots—it wouldn’t be bad for the housing-starved region if these and other trends rolled on

Construction on the Hub on Causeway on and around TD Garden this past September. The project includes hundreds of housing units.
| Boston Globe via Getty Images

There are some Boston-area real estate and development trends that clearly will not survive the decade now ending. Then there are others that will. And, finally, there are others that should. These are those trends.

A subway train pulling away from a tall, glassy station. Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Transit-oriented residential development. Building housing on and around transportation hubs—whether T stations or stops as well as much larger nexuses such as North and Back Bay stations (and maybe, just maybe, South Station)—came very much into vogue this decade.

It’s exactly the sort of mass-transit-focused thing that should continue through the 2020s given how bad the region’s vehicular traffic is and how desperately the area needs housing in general. But transit-oriented development can be easier said then done.

Demolition work on an old, brutalist-style garage in downtown Boston. HYM Investment Group

Redevelopment of parking garages and surface lots. This is a more recent phenomenon—the last couple of years maybe—and is due not only to that seemingly insatiable demand for housing in the Boston area but to the sheer value of some of these properties to their sellers and to changes in transportation, not least the rise of app-hails such as Uber.

Whatever the causes, the redevelopment of conventional parking garages and surface lots in the Boston region is a welcome trend that should continue into the 2020s. Not only do they provide more housing, but the very nature of these properties means that this housing will be more centrally located and closer to commercial and retail areas. That can mean fewer people commuting via vehicle. Every bit helps.

A flooded sidewalk next to a city shoreline, and there’s a man in a windbreaker on the sidewalk. Boston Globe via Getty Images

Climate-resilient development. It’s bad enough the Boston area could feel like coastal Maryland in a few decades because of climate change. The real worry is the sea level rise this change could bring. Luckily, both private developers and public officials are at least trying to get in front of the challenge, building and planning more resilient and less environmentally disruptive projects.

Case in point: Boston proper is moving toward carbon-neutrality by midcentury. That includes requiring all new city-owned buildings to be just so via either efficiencies or the use of renewable energy, or through offsetting any emissions. And private developers are taking their own steps, often in part to win official okays.

An aerial shot of a big metro region with a river running through it. Shutterstock

Regional cooperation on housing. This is another trend that came very much into vogue in the 2010s—and about time. In late 2018, for instance, a coalition of 15 Boston-area mayors famously committed to facilitating the construction of 185,000 new housing units by 2030.

The reasons were clear and unsurprising: The Boston region’s population is growing—it could crest 5 million during the next decade—and that population is packed into dozens of towns and cities with often porous borders that many residents don’t pay much attention to (hence all those Brookline and Medford folks who say they’re from Boston).

Also, in just the past year, various reports and anecdotes have shined a harsh light on the zoning regulations of various cities and towns in the region—and how those regs have often stymied just the sort of multifamily housing that Greater Boston needs. There would appear to be no going back as far as forcing change across the board.

The large metal sign for a new dormitory. Boston Globe via Getty Images

More gown, less town. The Boston area is home to dozens of universities, colleges, and community colleges, including more than 30 in Boston proper alone that enroll more than 150,000 students. Not all such students live on campus, meaning they drive demand for housing in the area that much higher—and therefore prices and rents that much higher.

But! In the past several years, more schools have moved to develop student housingincluding through partnerships with private dormitory developers—or to convert existing buildings to the same. If the trend continues in the 2020s—and it really should—it will take that many more collegians out of the general housing race and hopefully bring down costs for everyone else.

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