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  • The South Shore Story

    It is the nature of successful urban places that they evolve based on the changing preferences of those who live, work, and visit there. To resist change is often to succumb to it as residents and businesses with options on where to locate seek communities that provide their preferred environments. Strategic processes add value by assessing existing conditions in the context of these broader trends and determining the actions necessary to position a community for future success.

    The South Shore of Massachusetts is in the enviable position of planning from a place of strength. It is already a proven residential destination for its diversity of unique communities, strong quality of life, top schools, accessibility to employment and recreation centers, historic and new-build commercial centers, and a host of other factors. While it would be tempting to fall back on these assets and assume they will continue to drive the region’s destination appeal into the foreseeable future, this would be a risky proposition. In fact, a quick glance at growth rates in the South Shore’s city and towns shows that communities that for centuries featured populations under 10,000 have only in the last few decades skyrocketed in popularity, no doubt driven by the same mix of amenities that the region still possesses today. To accommodate this population surge, South Shore towns have invested heavily in services and infrastructure to ensure they remained destinations of choice. Another result of this growth, however, has been the adoption in some South Shore communities of development controls designed to hold future population surges in check by discouraging dense, multi-family residential projects and housing development other than traditional single-family construction.

    While this is not true for all South Shore towns, the majority of local communities must acknowledge that larger market forces are driving investment to places that offer a diversity of choices for residents and businesses, including denser, transit-oriented activity centers that feature a mix of uses like residential, office, retail, and dynamic public spaces and amenities. Data showing an aging workforce and a largely local-serving economy in the South Shore are early warning signs that regional trends are no longer pointing towards sustained growth. Creating a business climate that supports the next generation of development in South Shore communities best positioned to support it is the next stage in the region’s evolution from a collection of unrelated towns south of Boston to a more cohesive and connected region with an expanding and diverse base of high-value employers providing more options to live and work in the South Shore.

    Just as the return of commuter rail to the South Shore fostered improved connectivity for residents who worked in Boston, this next strategic phase will also enhance transportation capacity and related development. But now it will also benefit local job creation in high-wage export sectors that will draw workers into the South Shore. These trends are occurring in destination suburbs across metropolitan Boston as transit stations are leveraged for a more intensive and walkable brand of development. Commenting on this trend, a Boston-area property manager noted, “The number-one challenge for many companies is how to attract talent… Companies need to attract talent and this is one way to do it. I think we’re going to see more of this in Massachusetts.”[1]

    The following are just two examples of these transit-oriented development (TOD) projects in the region.

     
     Waltham Commuter Rail TOD Wellesley Commuter Rail TOD   

    It is time for the South Shore to capitalize on the tremendous opportunities it has for these types of projects or risk that investment will eventually pass it by in favor of more established transit-oriented markets. And, indeed, communities across the South Shore have prime opportunities – many of them already announced – to capitalize on proximity to rail transit stations for new types of mixed-use activity centers. Three of these sites are pictured below.

     
     Quincy Center The Landing (Weymouth section) 
     Cordage Park, Plymouth

    In Union Point – the 1,400-acre redevelopment of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station (SouthField) – the South Shore features the most dynamic multi-acre, contiguous, transit-connected, development-ready site in all of greater Boston. With momentum for the project building, Union Point could single-handedly serve as the catalyst for a wave of new follow-on development, not only in the districts immediately adjacent to it, but more distant South Shore towns as well. Just as importantly, Union Point can change both internal and external perceptions of the South Shore as either a collection of commuter suburbs or a pass-through on the drive to the Cape.

    The most prominent potential transit-oriented development sites in the South Shore are pictured in the image at left. This map shows not only the geographic breadth of these sites and properties in an impact radius of five miles, but also puts these opportunities into greater context in terms of their effect on the rest of the South Shore’s diverse town environments. Focusing on the highest-value potential development sites as the priority locations to enhance the region’s competitiveness for activity centers appealing to top talent and knowledge-based companies does not compromise the South Shore’s established benefits as a more traditional suburban location for individuals, couples, families, and local-serving industry. Towns along the coast and inland communities without direct transit access will certainly benefit from a South Shore with greater appeal to a more diverse array of residents and businesses, but will maintain rates of growth and investment consistent with current trends.As more interest is generated for the South Shore as a locus for multiple types of development, additional properties in the region will come onto the radar of Massachusetts and out-of-state investors. This is especially true because of the continuing strength of the Boston region as a hub of innovation and job-creation, and increasingly prohibitive property values, home prices, and commercial leasing rates in the City of Boston proper and close-in communities like Cambridge and Somerville.  

    While the economic development opportunities in the South Shore are compelling, the region will not achieve its preferred future without a concerted and coordinated strategic effort that positively impacts a host of priority competitiveness areas. It is not enough to have strong transportation and transit access and dynamic development sites, the South Shore must also foster friendlier business climates, improved mobility, enhanced entrepreneurial capacity, more diverse quality of life amenities, greater support for existing companies, and better awareness from and relationships with investors who can bring high-paying export-based jobs to the region. As seen in the graphic to the right, the South Shore Regional Development Strategy and its effective implementation will bring stakeholders together in new ways and provide valuable support to local officials looking to enhance their capacity to accommodate future growth. By leveraging public and private officials, business people, practitioners, and residents in dynamic work teams focused on the South Shore’s priority strategic areas, the region can best capitalize on its most compelling development opportunities, improve its economic diversity, and ensure its workforce is sustainable for existing and future employers.

    Achieving progressive regional change does not happen because of the efforts of just one or even a handful of organizations and leaders. It takes an engaged and collaborative network of partners focused on a strategic vision and willing to do the hard work necessary to create communities their children and their children’s children will live and work in for generations to come. Implementation of the South Shore Strategy will take some stakeholders out of their comfort zones, but that is necessary if the region is to become more competitive in the metro Boston market and realize its full potential.While the economic development opportunities in the South Shore are compelling, the region will not achieve its preferred future without a concerted and coordinated strategic effort that positively impacts a host of priority competitiveness areas. It is not enough to have strong transportation and transit access and dynamic development sites, the South Shore must also foster friendlier business climates, improved mobility, enhanced entrepreneurial capacity, more diverse quality of life amenities, greater support for existing companies, and better awareness from and relationships with investors who can bring high-paying export-based jobs to the region. As seen in the graphic to the right, the South Shore Regional Development Strategy and its effective implementation will bring stakeholders together in new ways and provide valuable support to local officials looking to enhance their capacity to accommodate future growth. By leveraging public and private officials, business people, practitioners, and residents in dynamic work teams focused on the South Shore’s priority strategic areas, the region can best capitalize on its most compelling development opportunities, improve its economic diversity, and ensure its workforce is sustainable for existing and future employers.







     

    [1] Fitzgerald, Jay. Developers take steps to reinvent suburban office parks, Boston Globe, 7/27/14