10 Ways Your Neighborhood Can Become The Next Somerville

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Once upon a time it was known as "Slumerville," a place filled with run-down homes and an industrial wasteland of idle meat-packing factories and manufacturing plants.

Then folks who couldn't afford the once hippy-cool Cambridge started drifting in, and now Somerville is synonymous with hip and trendy: it's full of coffee shops, award-winning chefs, yoga studios and hipsters with a lot of facial hair, tattoos and attitude.

It's also becoming really expensive, like Cambridge. And with a new Orange line T stop and another Green line stop coming to East Somerville, that trend will continue.

The question is: how did it happen? And how can it happen elsewhere?

In other words, where is the next Somerville?


Beth Teitell, features writer for The Boston Globe. She tweets @BethTeitell.

Richard Florida, urban studies theorist. He's director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, professor at NYU and senior editor of The Atlantic. He tweets @Richard_Florida.

Jay Ash, Chelsea city manager. He tweets @CMJayAsh.

10 Ways Your Neighborhood Can Become The Next Somerville

1. Attract the right residents:
Beth Teitell:
"One thing that you're talking about is people who...are creative, who are part of what's called the 'knowledge workers' or the 'creative class.' That's crucial. People who have some money. And then you also have some people who are just kind of artistic. The outward signs would be they're into food and craft beers and they're talking about keeping chickens in their backyard. How many people are doing that, I don't know. But you need some people with money, obviously, so that that attracts some stores.

2. Be near another hot spot:
"You have to be near some place that other people want to be. So...easy access to an orbit where the city or neighborhood...Boston [for example] and also Cambridge."

3. Develop public transportation options:
"Public transportation's a must. So it has to be either subways, trains and even water taxis are better than buses. You also need a high proportion of rental housing because if you have too many houses that people just have to buy as opposed to rent you can't get people moving in or moving out quickly."

4. Appoint leaders with vision:
"I talked to somebody who runs a food truck festival and she was describing, when they wanted to go to Somerville, how somebody from City Hall came and drove around with them and said, 'Where would be a great place for your food trucks?' And she contrasted that with another town where they were going to have a festival where the people weren't helpful at all."

5. Focus on attracting the right business:
Richard Florida:
"[Hip neighborhoods] are highly clustered in and around research universities, knowledge-based institutions and think tanks. And now that could be an MIT or a Harvard, or it could be the Rand Institute in Santa Monica."

6. Take advantage of water:
"If there's a wonderful waterfront amenity, they'll be in that area, too."

7. Have rental options:
"Because many of these people are young and looking for a less expensive place, at least, to go to be the next Somerville, they need to have a lot of rental housing as opposed to just single-family home ownership or condo."

8. Artists are key:
"Artists, particularly visual artists — painters, musicians — tend to be the kind of people who we would now call DIY. They tend to be people who can make things work and the great urbanist, the late urbanist Jane Jacobs, who was a mentor of mine always said, 'New ideas require old buildings.' So these are the kind of folks who seek out old buildings, repurpose old buildings and they're oblivious to the kind of crime and other factors that might be in some of those neighborhoods."

9. So are gay men:
"Gay men, because they're men, tend to have a much higher risk tolerance for neighborhoods in transition than do heterosexual couples or lesbian couples."

10. But beware the divided city:
"When I was a graduate student in the early 1980s, the Boston area was a working-class town. There were still old factory buildings near MIT where I was in school. The working classes nearly completely disappeared and you have two groups: you have these kind of knowledge workers and the creative class who are doing reasonably well, and a lagging group of people who serve them, who work in retail shops, work in food preparation and service...And not just in Boston; this is in cities across the United States."


The Boston Globe: Boston-Area Communities Vie To Be The Next Somerville

  • "When Ed Greable takes buyers house shopping in Medford, the broker hits one selling point hard: 'Medford is the new Somerville.'"

The Atlantic CITYLAB: Class-Divided Cities: Boston Edition

  • "The map above charts the geography of class for the urban core of the Boston area, including Cambridge and Brookline as well as the city of Boston. The creative class lives in the areas that are shaded in purple, the red areas are primarily service class, and the blue are working class."

The Boston Globe: Looks Like Chelsea Is Getting The Last Laugh

  • "I’ve been beating the Chelsea-is-coming-back drum for a long time now. After decades as a punchline, the city right over the Tobin has been steadily shaking off its corrupt and decrepit past. Innovators have been innovating. Yuppies have been yuppifying. Builders have been building."

This article was originally published on October 29, 2014.

This segment aired on October 29, 2014.


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