Malden And Everett Ride The Wave Of Redevelopment

Transformative Development Districts Propose To Unify Cities Across The River

July 5, 2015 : Banker & Tradesman, by Marty Jones

Cities in greater Boston are at a critical development juncture. These inner-ring cities face increased land use and development pressures, creating a need to balance specific community identities and priorities with regional economic influences. As each city seeks sustainable economic development within their compact footprints, they need to balance the desire for growth and development of regional amenities with protecting their diverse cultural fabric and good job base found in light industrial businesses.

During MassDevelopment’s review of district proposals for its Gateway Cities Transformative Development Initiative (TDI), the agency recognized challenges and similarities facing two industrial mixed-use districts in Malden and Everett. TDI is an integrated place-based program for urban redevelopment designed to implement locally driven strategic, catalytic and sustainable revitalization. MassDevelopment selected Malden and Everett from among 26 Gateway Cities to benefit from a multi-disciplinary approach that supports light industrial mixed-use districts as key to economic growth in the Boston region.

To begin the conversation, MassDevelopment and the cities engaged the expertise of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Advisory Services Program. This service provides independent, objective, candid advice on important land use and real estate matters. In early June, ULI convened a panel of eight nationally renowned experts from across North America to immerse themselves in the communities for five days and recommend next steps for the cities. Given the growth and emergence of strong mixed-use urban industrial districts nationwide, the panel focused on the unique issues of land development in metro Boston’s urban core in light of additional land development activity and demand for increased housing, commercial space, and the integration of these uses.

The TDI districts in the respective cities – vibrant, light industrial settings on opposite sides of the Malden River – defined the study area. The panel examined how the two districts can develop in ways that help the current jobs base thrive, improve connections to regional infrastructure and natural amenities, such as the Malden River and adjoining neighborhoods, and promote economic growth. The panel also addressed how the two districts could work together to maintain their diverse economic bases and to catalyze private investment in the overall development vision.

United By The River
Through its activities, composition and the attention it garnered, the ULI panel provided a rare forum to bring the two communities together to create a shared vision while maintaining distinct identities. The cities of Malden and Everett put forth a great deal of effort in preparing materials for the panelists’ review, providing an extensive tour of the areas, and convened over more than 100 stakeholders for interviews. The panelists, in turn, immersed themselves in the communities by walking and driving the districts, stopping to talk to anyone who willing to share their stories about Malden and Everett, and analyzing extensive reports and data. It was through these experiences and analysis that these eight experts, ranging in professions from urban designers and strategists to senior marketing directors and developers, made their recommendations on how the cities can address challenges and provide for short- and long-term growth.

Thanks to a strong contingent of West Coast panelists, the ULI advisory panel’s final presentation borrowed terminology from surfing. Panelists advised the cities to “carve the wave” – take control of development by setting a course and following the vision. The panel also recognized a need to balance the optimal community outcomes versus what the market demands, encouraging Malden and Everett to “ride the wave” of residential development but promote locations and configurations that invigorate the workplace. In turn, those connections will boost community, commerce and sustainability. Continuing the water theme, the panel recommended using the Malden River as an organizing principle, with focus areas, to unite the two districts while creating distinct identities for the cities: the “Food Innovation District” in Malden and the “Santilli-Norman District” in Everett. These proposed areas would focus on makers, recreation and next-generation industrial uses. Other enhancements to the river connection could include a riverwalk, recreational space for boating and biking, or an iconic pedestrian bridge for greater mobility between the districts.

ULI will publish a final report in the coming weeks. MassDevelopment and the mayors of Malden and Everett were encouraged to see the panel raise many actionable next steps, and we are already discussing strategies for implementation. Overall, the biggest victory was a new dialogue and fresh perspective at a critical time for these rapidly changing Gateway Cities.

Marty Jones is the president and CEO of MassDevelopment, the commonwealth’s finance and development authority.