Mayor Wu Begins Process of Sunsetting Boston Urban Renewal Plans

This week Mayor Michelle Wu began the process of sunsetting Boston’s outdated Urban Renewal plans in several areas of Boston including the Fenway and South End Urban Renewal plans.

Mayor Wu filed the order with the City Council Monday that would begin the process of sunsetting the city’s urban renewal plans.

Historically in Boston, Urban Renewal was a set of land development tools that dates back to the American Housing Act of 1949 was most commonly associated with the demolition of the West End in 1957 and subsequent displacement of thousands of families. The order would immediately sunset five of the 14 active urban renewal plans in Boston.

The order would see the other nine plans, which includes the Fenway and South End Urban Renewal plans, sunset on December 31, 2022.

“Today we begin the process of winding down urban renewal’s legacy in Boston as part of a broader effort to build transparency and accountability for our shared growth and prosperity,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “This order will give our departments the time to map out a larger plan and come back to present later this year.”

While all 14 plans are currently set to expire on April 22, 2022, the short-term extension for nine of the plans, which includes the Fenway and South End Urban Renewal plans, will allow for further discussion with the City Council and community stakeholders. Wu said this extension will help to accelerate plans to prevent unintended negative consequences and advance positive, community-oriented outcomes.

The Fenway Urban Renewal area consists of the Symphony area, the Museum and the Medical Center area, and includes more than 20 Land Disposition Agreements (LDAs), which puts additional restrictions on public and private properties that the city took ownership of via “site assembly.” A provision of Urban Renewal specific to the Fenway is that one percent of the cost of development projects in the neighborhood must be devoted to on-site public art amenities,

Over in the South End and beginning in 1955, nearly all of the buildings in the New York Streets district were bulldozed as part of an urban renewal project to clear “slums” and make room for industrial activity in a period marked by urban decline.

As it currently stands, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) has identified over 1,300 parcels with existing Land Disposition Agreements tied to urban renewal powers, some of which provide protections for affordable housing, open space, and other land use provisions. This additional time will give the City the time to set a plan for potential state legislation to transfer or protect the appropriate provisions. Wu said the City is in the process of hiring a new Chief of Planning, who will be critical to setting the direction for urban renewal sunsetting and larger structural reforms to build a more equitable, resilient, transit-oriented, and affordable city. This extension will also provide an opportunity to align the mayor’s goal for a comprehensive vision for planning and development in the city

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