Task Force Releases Recommendations for Creating More Open Space in Somerville

Recommendations to be discussed at September 4 City Council Committee meeting

SOMERVILLE – The City of Somerville Open Space Creation Task Force recently released a strategy memo with recommendations on new and innovative approaches for the creation of more open space in Somerville, the most densely populated city in New England. The 4.1 square mile city has been working to achieve its goal to create an additional 125 new acres of open space by 2030, with 105.1 acres left to go.

Convened by Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, the Task Force established six goals for open space creation along with recommendations for achieving these goals and measures to track progress. The goals include:
Increase new publicly accessible open space
Increase the number of athletic fields to meet the demand for youth recreation hours
Increase the number of community garden plots
Provide a range of publicly accessible open spaces within a 5-minute (0.25 mile) walking distance of every residential parcel in Somerville
Provide equal access to high-quality open space across the city
Maximize the ecosystem benefits that open spaces provide to residents and the natural world
To work toward these goals, the Task Force recommended the City create a plan for the acquisition of parcels for new open space. They provided key questions to guide the prioritization of parcel purchases, such as filling current open space access gaps.

Nationally, on average 54% of residents live within a 10-minute walking distance (0.5 miles) of an open space. In Somerville, currently 100% of residents live within a 10-minute walking distance of an open space and 94.4% of Somerville residents live within a 5-minute walking distance (0.25 miles). The Task Force would like to move the 5-minute number in Somerville to 100% as well, noting that equitable access to open space is an essential component of any plan for open space creation. To that end, they proposed considering an equity lens when planning new or renovating existing open space as well as when establishing safe pedestrian and bicycle routes to open spaces.

Novel strategies for increasing open space were also identified such as converting excess street surface to open space or integrating open space into affordable housing and community organization site planning. The need for open spaces to support native pollinators was also noted.

To fund the creation of the remaining 105.1 acres needed to reach the SomerVision 2030 goal, the Task Force found that the City of Somerville would need to spend $651 million in today’s dollars. Recognizing that traditional municipal revenues such as property tax will not be sufficient to reach the community’s goal, the Task Force calls for exploring options for generating new funding sources such as increasing the Community Preservation Act surcharge or using new taxes created by development to fund open space. Partnering with developers to create privately owned public spaces, known as POPS, was cited as an important tool.

Another financing approach highlighted was the District Improvement Financing mechanism to commit all or a portion of the tax increment for new developments to fund improvements in the established district, which could include open space acquisition. The Task Force also recommended supporting new community partners to become engaged in open space creation, including working with the emerging Community Land Trust, supporting the creation of a community foundation, and encouraging ‘friends’ groups that could help support fundraising for the creation of new open space as well as its maintenance. They also noted that residents should also be made aware that they can support the creation of open space by gifting land to the City of Somerville, or to the Community Land Trust once it is fully established.

The Task Force has actively shared its work with the SomerVision 2040 Public Space and Natural Environment Working Group to help ensure a strong connection between the work of the Task Force and the SomerVision 2040 update. Persons interested in learning more about the report are invited to attend the City Council Housing and Community Development Committee’s meeting on Wednesday, September 4, at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 93 Highland Ave. The memo is also available at http://www.somervillema.gov/publicspaceplanning.

Individuals with disabilities who need auxiliary aids and services for effective communication, written materials in alternative formats, or reasonable modifications in policies and procedures, in order to access the programs and activities of the City of Somerville or to attend meetings, should contact Nency Salamoun, at 617-625-6600 x2323 or NSalamoun@somervillema.gov.

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