Southeastern Mass. local government stuck in 1950, according to new report
Southeastern Massachusetts needs to change its transportation planning process, reform the property tax system and adopt land-use techniques that preserve open space if it wants to be “competitive and sustainable” over the next 50 to 100 years, the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District says in a new report.
The area’s communities “govern themselves as if it were 1950 rather than nearly a decade into the 21st century,” the report says. “Our elected officials have not yet come to grip with the changes in and challenges to our way of life.”
The 28-member Futures Task Force, made of SRPEDD staff, members and others, created the report after a series of meetings that began last spring. The task force created a 24-page report this month that suggests ways the region can better plan for land use, transportation, the economy and other areas.
The report is meant to begin conversations on long-term planning and to push for change. “We need to think about things differently,” said SRPEDD Principal Transportation Planner Louise A. Daley. “We need to think more long-term and more regionally. We need to think about the larger picture.”
Suggestions are made for nearly all aspects of living in the region. The area should promote start-up businesses, invest in renewable energy businesses and encourage regional institutions like colleges and hospitals to give preference to local produce, the report says.
There should also be a regional clean energy plan, an expansion of bus and rail transit, and property-tax reform to make communities less reliant on the system for funding, it says. The report also makes suggestions for how individuals can protect their environment at home.
“Do anything you can do to reduce energy use,” Daley said. “Gas is $3 a gallon and holding steady, and we’re pretty sure it’s not going to come down again. When you buy your next car or next home, consider that.”
The report didn’t prioritize the categories, like economy, energy, agriculture and others, but much of the report is centered around land use and protection of the environment. Sprawl, the report says, has resulted in the loss of half of the area’s open space and agricultural land in the last 50 years.
“We have been developing land in an unsustainable manner at a pace far more rapid than our population growth,” the report says. Zoning bylaws created decades ago to keep factories out of residential areas has also resulted in spread-out development that requires far more transit infrastructure, Daley said.
“People were encouraged to develop in rural areas instead of in cities,” she said. “There’s a big demand for transit to serve the commercial areas. It’s hard to serve suburban sprawl with transit.”
The report suggests incentives for mixed-use developments or developments next to bus or train stations, requirements for developers to provide pedestrian and bicycle connections and amenities, and the creation of a regional system that would enable transferring of development rights across town lines to keep development in areas already developed.
To maintain farms, the report recommends promoting community farms, encouraging farmers markets and expanding workforce training programs. Restoration of historic trolley systems is another suggestion. While no cities are making plans for trolley systems yet, Daley said, they would help restore life to once-bustling downtowns.
The Futures Task Force meetings allowed SRPEDD to include agriculture and education in planning, two areas the public planning agency doesn’t typically focus on, Daley said.
E-mail Grant Welker at email@example.com.