In three Boston neighborhoods, home could soon be where the stacks are.
The city is set to join a handful of other places that combine public libraries with affordable housing, a popular pairing that addresses increasingly pricey housing markets and limited land for new development.
“Certainly no one would argue that housing is one of the biggest challenges in the city and one way to help with that is bringing more affordable housing into the mixture,” Boston Public Library president David Leonard said during a Boston Public Radio segment this week. “So it’s taking a piece of property, and what is great for us is we will get a new library out of the process.”
Boston started floating the idea of combining housing and libraries about six years ago with a partnership between the Housing Innovation Lab, which is a city program that proposes creative solutions to the housing crisis, and the Boston Public Library system under the Walsh administration. “It’s just a natural fit for housing and families to live above them,” said Joe Backer, senior development officer with the mayor’s Office of Housing in the neighborhood housing development division.
The earliest site considered was in Fields Corner, in Dorchester, but the narrow corner library location was “too tight” to both upgrade the library and make sure that the housing mix above it was affordable, Leonard said on GBH. A proposed Egleston Square library with attached housing hit a blockade with the adjacent Jamaica Plain and Roxbury communities, who Leonard says preferred to focus on outdoor programming for the new library to keep as much green space as possible.
But the city and library system hit the right marks with new and renovated libraries planned for Dorchester’s Upham’s Corner, the West End, and Chinatown. The city awarded the Upham’s Corner project to a developer on April 13, released a request for proposals for the West End project earlier this month, and is planning for a new library in Chinatown, which hasn’t had its own branch since the former building was bulldozed in the 1950s to make room for the Central Artery.
Some combination of city-funded affordable housing is being pitched for each site, stacking housing above the library.
“I think we’re seeing an emergence over the last 10 years in the library profession about valuing the role of our civic spaces more,” Leonard said. “And so this is just one more way where we are adjacent to different types of civic infrastructure, whether it’s a community center, or a radio station, or now housing.”
Chicago started exploring co-locating housing and libraries around the same time Boston did. A citywide design competition connected three of Chicago’s top architects to three planned library sites across the city, which opened throughout 2019 and paired state-of-the-art library facilities with a mix of affordable housing.
“It’s been great. It’s putting a little community right there where the library is, and having it in the larger community has been very successful,” said Patrick Molloy, director of government and public affairs for the Chicago Public Library. The combination of a new library, the right connected use, and strong civic architecture has been key to the program’s success, he said, and the library system plans to incorporate mixed uses into as many future projects as possible.
They are starting to see more traffic as the nationwide pandemic emergency wanes, he said. “I don’t think we have any doubt that it is something that definitely works,” Molloy said. “You just have to find the best mixes” of either housing, childcare, or maybe even retail to include in the library sites.
In Boston, with a famously tight landscape and brutal housing costs, the projects are about using the land strategically to pair public amenities in the form of a shiny new library with affordable housing in places like Beacon Hill.
“If you look at sort of geographic distribution of affordable housing in the city, I don’t think it will surprise anyone to learn that you have disproportionately less in the part of the city where this library sits,” Backer said of the West End branch at the foot of Beacon Hill. “So it’s a really valuable opportunity to bring any amount of affordable housing into that neighborhood.”
The three projects on the books aside, Bostonians should keep an eye on Codman Square in Dorchester, which just completed a programming study and is in line for renovation. Library and housing leaders are already looking at a possible housing link for the site.
Slow zones not going anywhere fast: MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng unveiled a plan to eliminate slow zones onthe Blue Line that could provide a template for the entire subway system. The plan calls for shutting down sections of the Blue Line at 7 p.m. to do repair work and shuttling passengers using buses. Even so, the slow zones won’t be eliminated entirely until November.
– Slow zones across most of the subway system were installed last month when it was discovered that defects uncovered by scans of the rails had not been addressed. On the Blue Line, Eng said, 69 track defects were detected, resulting in 21 speed restrictions.
– Eng said the same approach being used on the Blue Line will probably be used on the other subway lines. He gave no timetable for completing all the work, but indicated most slow zones on the Red Line will be eliminated by the end of the year. Read more.
Near misses keep coming at the T: More near-miss incidents were reported at the MBTA, prompting federal regulators to exert more oversight of maintenance efforts on the subway system and T officials to put employees through safety retraining sessions.
– Four near misses were reported last week, and two more quickly followed. One incident resulted in an employee being seriously injured. In a letter to MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng, a top Federal Transit Administration official said “a combination of unsafe conditions and practices exist such that there is a substantial risk of death or personal injury.” Read more.
Brayton Point settlement: Attorney General Andrea Campbell reaches a $300,000 settlement with the owner of Brayton Point in Somerset and two of its tenants who allegedly violated federal laws dealing with clean air and clean water. Read more.
Housing worries: Elyse Cherry, the CEO of BlueHub Capital, lays out what must be done to head off the next foreclosure crisis. Read more.
Women in workforce: Christina Gordon, the co-founder and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Boston, says the best way to address the shortage of workers in many fields is to bring more women into the workforce. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Civil rights attorneys are asking Newton officials for an explanation of what they called over-policing of Black spectators cheering on runners at the Boston Marathon. (WBUR)
Point32Health, the parent company of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan, was hit by a cybersecurity ransomware attack that caused its website to be down for a period of time this week. (Boston Globe)
A Berkshire Eagle editorial offers some interesting solutions for the state’s nursing home crisis.
Boston is in for a busy election season, with the latest electoral opening in Dorchester’s District 3, where City Councilor Frank Baker says he will not seek re-election after finishing his sixth term in office. (Dorchester Reporter)
If Ron DeSantis flames out as a potential Republican presidential candidate, Joe Battenfeld’s lead today will shine bright: “Ron DeSantis can’t even beat Mickey Mouse. How is he possibly going to beat Donald Trump?” (Boston Herald)
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. formally announced his long-shot candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president in a two-hour speech at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. The anti-vaccine crusader said “my objective will be to make as many Americans as possible forget that they are Republicans or Democrats and remember that they are Americans. We need to focus on the values we share instead of the issues that divide us.” (Gloucester Times)
The Northampton City Council is about to see massive turnover in the coming election, with a third of its body, including the council president and vice president, deciding not to run again for their posts. (MassLive)
Trouble is on the menu at acclaimed Boston foodie Barbara Lynch’s restaurant empire, where former employees are speaking out about a “toxic” culture they say she has cultivated. (Boston Globe) The New York Times also has a lengthy story on Lynch, which, like the Globe’s, includes quotes from a jarring March 15 exchange between Lynch and staffers at Fort Point restaurant Menton that was recorded and shared with both papers.
The latest Easthampton school superintendent candidate dropped out after a student uncovered social media posts that used “conservative transphobic rhetoric a multitude of times.” The previous candidate dropped out after controversy erupted about his use of the word “ladies” in an email to two women school officials. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
At Green Mount Cemetery in Montpelier, Vermont, more and more people are being buried naturally, meaning they are wrapped in a shroud and buried in shallow graves – no embalming fluids, no monuments, and no holes six feet deep. (Vermont Radio)
A fire that broke out not long after Easter services at a Lutheran church in Cambridge is being investigated as arson. (Associated Press)