On Wednesday, August 3, 2016 the Commonwealth’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) approved the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s (BRA) request to extend the agency’s urban renewal powers in plan areas that cover over 3,000 acres of the city and include parts of Charlestown, the Fenway, Chinatown, the South End, Roxbury, the Downtown Waterfront, the West End, North Station area, and Government Center. The extension allows the BRA to maintain these powers, which are used for planning and economic development purposes, for another six years, until April 2022.
DHCD’s approval came after the BRA facilitated a robust, year-and-a-half long public engagement process to inform residents about the history of urban renewal and to solicit feedback about the future use of these tools in Boston. This effort included over a dozen community workshops, public meetings before the Boston City Council, and a first-of-its-kind website devoted to urban renewal information and resources.
As a result of stakeholder input, the BRA has created a two-year action plan to improve the level of transparency and accountability with respect to how urban renewal tools are used in Boston. Prior to this year’s extension, Boston’s urban renewal plans were last reauthorized in 2005 for ten years.
Urban renewal dates back to the American Housing Act of 1949, when the federal government began to invest great sums of money to redevelop cities that were rapidly declining after World War II. Early urban renewal efforts attempted to tackle widespread blight by assembling land to develop massive infrastructure and public facilities, usually at the expense of displacing poor and marginalized residents. Today, urban renewal is used in a much more nuanced manner to help create vibrant neighborhoods.
For more information on the BRA’s 2016 urban renewal extension, click here.