I came to PlaceMatters this summer from Somerville, Massachusetts, a Boston-area city best known as Cambridge’s slightly grittier, more affordable, and no-nonsense neighbor to the north. I’m a proud two-time resident of Somerville, and in my time there I’ve gotten to know my adopted hometown—the most densely-populated municipality in New England—block-by-block, one triple-decker and Brazilian corner store at a time. It’s a remarkably diverse community, a mix of students, new immigrants, young professionals, and older ethnic communities that have been a part of the socio-cultural fabric for generations.
But in all my municipal trekking there has always been an outer limit, an end of the known universe that is Somerville. And that boundary had always been McGrath Highway. Nary a ten-minute walk from my Union Square apartment, McGrath is a fearsome behemoth of a road, with rickety concrete and steel overpasses and busy at-grade on-and-off-ramps. Beyond McGrath lies a vast industrial zone, bisected and circumscribed by railroad tracks and highway overpasses, stretching to Sullivan Square and I-93, and Charlestown beyond. This forbidding terra incognita—far off the mental maps of a great many area residents, myself included—is Somerville’s Inner Belt Brickbottom district.
But with a boulevardization plan under consideration for McGrath Highway and the planned construction of an MBTA Green Line Extension light rail station at Washington Street, Inner Belt and Brickbottom are well on their way toward integration with the rest of the city. On June 25th, PlaceMatters—in partnership with Goody Clancy and the City of Somerville’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development—facilitated an opportunity for area residents to expand our mental maps, inviting us to explore this undiscovered neighborhood and formulate a vision for its future. The Inner Belt Brickbottom (IBBB) “Walkshop”—think “walk” + “workshop”—divided us into five teams, envisioning new corridors along McGrath Highway, Washington Street and New Washington Street, and investigating the potential for neighborhood development in the more-remote industrial cores of Inner Belt and Brickbottom.