On March 11, more than 175 real estate professionals and local elected leaders from the greater Boston area came together for the 2015 LOCUS New England Leadership Summit: Closing the Next [Smart Growth] Deal.
Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash kicked off the day’s events with an opening plenary on the future of housing in Massachusetts. Secretary Ash discussed the state’s successes and challenges when it comes to creating walkable communities. “We ought to make sure to prepare communities for success,” Ash said. “There are opportunities across the Commonwealth, and my challenge to developers is to think big.”
LOCUS Director Christopher Coes kicked off second session with a question to attendees: “How can we, the developer community, make sure we are not victims of our own success?” To answer it, a panel titled “Bridging the Gap between Affordability and Profitability” discussed strategies for affordable housing. Chryse Gibson, Executive Vice President of Oaktree/Greenline emphasized the positive impact of affordable housing. Jair Lynch, President of JAIR LYNCH DEVELOPMENT and a member of LOCUS’s Steering Committee, brought his expertise in revitalizing communities in the DC area while still ensuring that local residents have the opportunity to participate in the revitalization. And Clark Ziegler, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, discussed local efforts on the ground to ensure affordable housing for Massachusetts’s residents.
Over lunch, LOCUS President Chris Leinberger unveiled WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Boston, new research about the future of development in greater Boston. The report studied the land use, economic, and social equity performance of all 3100 square miles of the Boston metropolitan area. 57 walkable urban places (or “WalkUPs”) and 14 emerging WalkUps were identified as neighborhoods best suited for future development. WalkUPs have price premiums of 20 to 134 percent when compared to drivable suburban places, and generate 12 times as much tax revenue as neighborhoods in edge cities. Neighborhoods were also evaluated based on their social equity performance, which took into consideration the area’s housing and transportation costs.
“There’s a major shift towards walkable urban development,” Leinberger explained, “and Boston is leading the country in this regard.” Joining him for a panel discussion about the new findings were Andre Leroux, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance; Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, MA; Frank Wuest, Boston President of Forest City Enterprises; and Secretary Stephanie Pollack of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
“This research is a public policy roadmap for Greater Boston,” said Secretary Pollack, who was formerly the Associate Director of Research at the Dukakis Center at Northeastern University, which collaborated on this report. “What it tells us is that we have a bunch of affordable places where you can afford the housing but you don’t have great access to opportunity and jobs, so we need a set of policies that improve access to opportunity in those places. We also have a set of places that have great access to opportunity but are unaffordable, so we need a set of policies that combine transportation and housing affordability in those places.”
Panels in the afternoon included “The Future of Infrastructure Development: Cutting Edge Solutions for the Region and the U.S.,” “Turning Local Practice into State and Federal Policy,” and “Re-imagining Communities and Revitalization.” Doug Landry, Senior Vice President for Land Development at VHB; Rick Dimino, President of A Better City; and Don Briggs, President of Federal Realty Boston and LOCUS Steering Committee Member were among the distinguished speakers who spoke about innovative strategies and policies necessary to build New England’s next walkable places.
Transportation infrastructure was a recurring topic throughout the Summit as Boston comes out of a record-breaking snow season. “The key issue is the maintenance and expansion of your transit system. It is critical to your economic success,” said Leinberger. “Walkable urban development brings significant fiscal returns to government, and you must invest that money into the MBTA if you are to continue growing.”
The first regional LOCUS New England Leadership Awards were presented that afternoon. Alex Twining, President and CEO of Twining Properties, was named the New England Developer of the Year for his more than 30 year history of transit-oriented development projects in the Boston area and along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. And the HYM Investment Group, LLC was named the New England Investment Company of the Year. For over 35 years, HYM’s success in managing complex mixed-use developments in Boston and Cambridge sets itself apart from other investors in New England.
Concluding the day’s events was a cocktail reception, which featured city officials from Nashua, NH; New Bedford, MA; Revere, MA; Salem, MA; and Somerville, MA presenting shovel-ready development opportunities in a session called “The Pitch.” It was a great culmination of a day’s worth of learning, networking, and creating new ways to build walkable places in New England.
Join the next chapter of this conversation about the future of smart growth at the 2015 LOCUS National Leadership Summit: Private Sector Solutions to the Affordability & Social Equity Crisis. Registration is now open for this event, happening in Washington, DC on June 2-3, 2015. We hope you will join us as we continue this work there.