Zoning for All

Simply Civics

I went to my first community meeting last night! It was the fourth installment out of four Housing Production Plan Community Workshops in Brookline Town Hall.

Because I had missed the first three, I had a lot of catching up to do. I’ll summarize the situation briefly. Brookline is working with RKG Associates, JM Goldson, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council to create a housing plan. The Commonwealth requires that at least 10% of each town or city’s housing is affordable. Affordable means that residents don’t spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

Brookline is under the 10% benchmark, and it has work to do. In Brookline:

  • 1/5 of households spend more than 50% of their income on housing;
  • 1/2 of households with low/moderate-income spend more than 50% of their income on housing; and
  • For renters, 3/4 of households with low/moderate-income spend more than 50% of their income.

Those numbers are truly staggering. The housing market is actually pushing individuals and families out of Brookline.

What’s exciting, though, is that there was a big turnout last night of concerned members of the community. For the most part, they want to see more affordable housing units. They want the people who are currently living in affordable housing to be able to keep their housing, and they want people who do not have affordable options to find them in Brookline. The question is: how?

The Brookline Planning Board, Housing Advisory Board, RKG Associates, and JM Goldson proposed draft strategies. There were four buckets of strategies: Regulatory, Resource Allocation, Education & Advocacy (my favorite), and Local Policy & Planning. I’m not familiar with Brookline zoning laws, but from what I gathered, they are complicated and are probably in need of some serious updating.

I tried my best to keep up with the presentation. What is Chapter 40B? What’s a Zoning Overlay District? What are all these buildings the presenters are referring to? I felt clueless and uninformed. At least I’m only here to gather information and learn, I thought.

Wrong.

We broke out into groups and rotated through four tables, one for each topic. Each person had to speak once before anyone could speak twice. I couldn’t hide. I had no option but to participate.

Facilitators asked us for our feedback on each strategy. Should we promote the use of 40B on appropriate sites for development or redevelopment? That sounds right, I thought. Do we want to prioritize building more affordable housing units or renovating the ones we already have? Can’t we do both? Should we raise taxes, divert funding from social programs, or provide incentives for developers to build renewable units in Brookline? Should we take land away from parks and open spaces to build new housing? Definitely not (Channeling my inner Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec.) The parks contribute a lot to Brookline’s character.

We spent 80 minutes debating, proposing, considering, refuting, inferring….

My head was spinning.

I felt like I was back in college, only this time, the stakes were a lot higher. My thoughts were actually being recorded and I was contributing to the Housing Production Plan for my town. This plan is going to impact housing development, financing, and sustainability for years to come. I was reminded that not only do we have to plan for Brookline today, but we must consider the future, too. We need to think critically about how to promote smart and sustainable housing policy for generations to come. As a millennial at the meeting, I represented the future generations of Brookliners.

As the meeting came to an end, the facilitators stood up and presented on the themes that had come up during the discussions. There seemed to be consensus around a lot of strategies, but also some disagreement about others. Some participants even had suggestions for potential community partnerships to expand affordable housing options.

The revised plan will be submitted to the Board of Selectmen in July. Updates should be posted on the HPP site.

We adjourned at 9:15, but the discussion is far from over. To provide input in the production plan process, submit your thoughts and/or questions here. It’s a tangible step we each can take to ensure Brookline’s affordability for years to come.

If you’re interested in participating in future community meetings, visit the Brookline calendar. There’s something going on almost everyday!

 

Freakonomics & Why We Follow the News

I listen to NPR One regularly…probably daily. If you haven’t checked it out already, download it from your App store. It’s an audio app that streams NPR news and programs based on your interests. I hear newscast clips from the Boston area and programs from across the country. If you hear one you don’t like, you can skip it. It’s similar to Pandora in that way. To be honest though, I don’t think I’ve skipped anything before. It’s that good.

I stumbled upon an interesting Freakonomics Radio rebroadcast the other day, called  Why Do We Really Follow the News?

Do we follow the news because we find it entertaining? We enjoy following sports, music, arts, fashion, etc, in the news. I personally find the Today Show entertaining. That’s not really what the podcast is getting at though.

I would argue that following the news, particularly when it comes to politics and the community, is not about entertainment. We grow through connecting with others. We feel compassion for others. We want to be informed of what’s going on down the street from us, and across the world from us, because it matters to us. When we’re more informed, and when we can relate to others through news, we thrive together in our local, national, and global communities.

Listen to the episode and let me know what you think!

 

Ben & Jerry’s

Ben and Jerrys

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts the other day, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. As it never fails to do, it got me thinking. I started wondering about how much politics and the news industry have changed with social media and technology. Has community life changed too? Do we engage civically in 2016 the same ways we did in 2006? 1996? 1986?

I’m willing to bet ten pints of Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream that today in 2016, we can find new ways to build connectedness in our communities, nationwide, and globally.

And so, I’ve started this blog.

I’m writing about my civic adventures in Brookline and Boston, and I’m inviting you to join me wherever you are.

There are so many opportunities for civic engagement.

We can vote, support candidates, and run for office. We can read, watch, and follow the news. We can listen to podcasts.

We can attend town or city events, or meet our neighbors at block parties. We can read about our local history. We can serve fellow community members through soup kitchens and clothing drives. We can explore and clean our parks and public spaces.

We can debate and dream boldly with our friends, family, and strangers.

That’s just the beginning.

I’m going on a journey to discover the virtues and vulnerabilities of living fully in our democratic society. I’ll share my path, and I hope that together we’ll find limitless possibilities. Wherever you are in your career, schooling, or life, there is a way to exercise your role as a citizen.

Civic engagement is more than just voting. It’s being present and active in our communities.

I’m excited to begin. Will you join me?

I’d love any ideas so please feel free to leave comments or email me. We’ll see where this goes!