Getting from Here to There

Transit advocates and CDCs in two parts of the greater Boston region are building cross-movement coalitions that are making equitable transit-oriented development a part of the fight for better transit access.

Getting Dollars and a Long-Term Commitment

Somerville Community Corporation and Groundworks Somerville have raised $500,000 for their planning work around the Green Line extension. The Fairmount Coalition has raised far more — some $3 million so far from foundations and government. With its holistic approach to development — transit equity, affordable housing, and green infrastructure — the Indigo Line has attracted a great deal of attention from foundations. Much of the Indigo Line money is for development purposes, not just planning. Somerville’s CDC is looking for development opportunities, too, but they are somewhat further from that stage than their Indigo Line counterparts.

In both projects, even with all this money to spend, there are few short-term results to celebrate. This is one of the biggest challenges of trying to keep a coalition together around a project that takes a decade or more to happen. The CDCs and their partners came together to work on the Indigo Line early in this decade, and they are still at least two years away from groundbreaking on new stations. Development of surrounding sites, and the greenway, could be a full decade away. Similarly, in Somerville new stations won’t be under construction until at least 2014.

The slow process can be trying for low-income residents just trying to get by. They don’t necessarily see results that affect their daily lives. While the coalition members on the Indigo Line now work closely together on transit equity and development, they don’t share programs to address issues that do come up in daily life, such as housing foreclosure and job loss, though some members do address these issues on their own, outside their work in the coalition.

Many residents were hesitant at first to get involved in the planning for the Green Line, but interest had picked up by the end of this summer’s round of visioning meetings, says Levy of SCC. The coalition formed a steering committee recently, made up of residents from the different parts of the city. The committee represents a cross-section of people who attended the meetings, including many low-income and immigrant residents.

To Reisner of STEP, getting this kind of involvement from the community is the most important thing that could have emerged from working as part of a coalition.

“The coalition’s been less involved in pushing this project to happen,” she says, noting that the state had agreed to build the stations before the coalition formed. “We came together to engage residents in what this train line is going to mean for the community, positively and negatively, and to make sure it works well.”

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