Councilor Wu Sounds off on Urban Renewal as Community Meetings Start

As the first of 16 Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) meeting on Urban Renewal begins in the Back Bay’s Park Plaza Area, Councilor Michelle Wu said that after several Council hearings on the subject, she hopes to see the Urban Renewal tool go away.

It’s a sentiment shared by many in the downtown neighborhoods, who understood that the six-year extension in 2016 was the final go-around for the development tool popularized in the 1950s and 1960s to get rid of urban blight.

“I’m not sure they’ve even given the appropriate amount of time for public participation,” she said, noting that the meetings are set up for the largest areas like Charlestown and the South End to come last – close to the cut-off date for a final report to the state on the process. “Urban Renewal is a by-product of a very different time in our country’s history…We are still acting like we need this powerful tool to deal with blight in our downtown areas when clearly development is advancing quickly. There’s a mismatch.”

She said agencies like the BPDA should be focusing on tools to make the City affordable and welcoming for those living here, not focusing on keeping archaic tools from the past to deal with blight that no longer exists.

“We see that Boston is one of the hottest areas for residential development in the country and that’s resulted in displacement for people who have been here a long time,” she said. “Our City agencies should be focused on stabilizing and making Boston a city people can afford to live in. It shouldn’t be a case where the BPDA and Urban Renewal are tools to support further acceleration of development.”

A recent meeting at City Hall run by Wu and Councilor Ed Flynn ended somewhat controversially, with the BPDA seemingly indicating that they intended to keep many of the larger Urban Renewal Areas like rather than sunset them.

The Park Plaza Area is rather inactive, and it is one of the 16 Urban Renewal areas that are likely to actually be suggested for removal.

That meeting takes place at the Revere Hotel on Monday, June 24, at 6 p.m.

However, larger meetings for large Urban Renewal Areas like the South End and Fenway won’t come for many more months.

The report from the BPDA to the state Department of Housing and Community Development is supposed to be the roadmap from the BPDA about how it will proceed after the six-year extension ends in 2022.

That report is due in September.

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