Broadway Corridor Design Competition - Feb 22nd, 2022

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from

I'll start with some background. Arlington's last town meeting adopted a resolution to hold a design competition for the Broadway Corridor, and Envision Arlington's Civic Engagement Group is trying to make this happen.

(Len Diggins, CEG) Mr. Diggins explains that this information session is being hosted by Envision Arlington's Civic Engagement Group, and how the idea for a Broadway Corridor design competition came out of a town meeting resolution. At a high level, we're trying to get ideas for what could be done in the Broadway Corridor. The goal is to get a sense of what the area might look like in 2040. We hope it can be an innovative and sustainable district. The designs could include linear parks, energy efficient buildings, more trees, and better walkability. The intention is to involve designer and planners in the process, to energize and shape a town-wide conversation.

Design criteria should include the area to be considered, walkability, solar and renewable energy sources, transit innovation, linear parkways, storm water management, climate resilience, and new types of housing. There could be a broader range of mid-priced housing for 1--2 person households, and contemplation of a future MBTA Green Line extension to Alewife Brook Parkway.

Today, 71% of residents in the Broadway corridor live in one- or two-person households. The existing housing is on the older side and was originally built for large families. New housing should be accessible to people with mobility challenges.

Barbara Thornton provided a list of ideas for the designers. These include:

  • 50--200 dwellings/building
  • 25% affordable dwellings
  • LEED or net zero
  • Mixed use
  • Floor area ratio of at least 3.2
  • No height restrictions
  • Storm water retention systems
  • Microgrids
  • Family-friendly
  • Business-friendly

Mr. Diggins says the CEG is looking for participants, and they anticipate schematic designs. The CEG will choose judges and award three $300 prizes. The winner will have the opportunity to present at a town forum. After the competition, there might be an opportunity to adjust height and density regulations, to make the area more economically viable.

The CEG is proposing the following schedule.

  • Feb 28. Finalize criteria and goals
  • March 15. Finish developing announcement materials
  • April 1. Press release to announce the competition
  • April 20. Enrollment Ends
  • May 20. Presentation to judges
  • June 1. Announce winner.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton says she's looking for participants and judges, and people who will do the design. The goal is to imagine what the area could look like years from now. Ms. Thornton says she's got a short list of places to contact for designs.

Mr. Diggins opens the meeting to questions.

(Elinor Charlton) Ms. Charlton thinks the schedule is aggressive.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says that several groups have been working on this for a while. The timeline isn't finalized yet.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton says she'd like designers to have an open vision.

(Elinore Charlton) Ms. Charlton says she'd like to see more multifamily housing in town, but she'd expect a lot of resistance to that idea.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says that one of the goals is to find out what can be done in the area. And we might find that not much can be done.

(Leah Broder) Ms. Broder is excited about the idea. She's a landscape architect, and believes it's good to have professionals looking at these things. She's curious about the format and the timeline. She thinks we have to think realistically about who will be willing to submit, and suggests reaching out to urban designers. She suspects that students will be the most likely to submit. She says its very important to increase the tree canopy, to avoid urban heat islands; these things, along with stormwater management should be primary goals. The design should provide a pleasant walking and cycling experience.

(Jennifer (missed last name)) Jennifer asks how much land is up for grabs.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton isn't sure. She says the goal is to look beyond what might be buildable today. This is more about thinking 20 years into the future.

(Asia Kepka) Ms. Kepka says she lives close to Broadway and would be most affected by changes to the area, especially if there were tall buildings. She thinks the town needs to address issues with its infrastructure: water, sewer, and the electric grid. She's concerned that housing would be a priority and open space a secondary concern. She's afraid of gentrification.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins acknowledges there can be a conflict between height and sunshine. However, taller buildings could allow more open space.

(Asia Kepka) Ms. Kepka says she's from Poland. She says there are tall buildings in Europe, but they tend to have open space around them.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says they're trying to get ideas that can be bounced around. Judging the entries won't be the end of the road.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says he lives near the Mass Ave corridor, and feels fortunate that there are numerous businesses he can walk to. The Broadway corridor seems under-served by businesses. He thinks people would be better served by more commercial activity. He also thinks mixed use wouldn't work well.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins there's too much of an emphasis on retail in mixed use.

(Leah Broder) Ms. Broder says she was leafing through MIT's Broadway Corridor study. She says there more detail in the study than a contest could produce in a month. She asks why the focus is on built form, rather than policy.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton says we're talking about 20 years from now. She thinks we might hurt ourselves if we focus too much on specific policies. Ms. Thornton asks if there have been any significant zoning changes to the Broadway corridor in the last 20 years. She's hoping to get us on track to making changes.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak notes that climate change has been alluded to. He hopes the designers won't be afraid to address some of the systemic reasons behind it, like automobile dependence, and the general tendency to build things too far apart.

Mr. Revilak agrees that the Broadway corridor could have more commercial vitality. The hot spots are Boyles Market, the Dunkin Donuts, and Davis Square (in Somerville). Today, one of lower Broadway's biggest advantages is its proximity to Somerville, which does have a lot of commercial offerings.

(Bill Reid) Mr. Reid is a planner and an ecologist, and he thinks a competition might not be the best approach. He thinks this seems more like a community visioning process, and that competitions are more isolated in nature. A competition might provide sizzle, but without providing a lot of benefit.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says he sees this as the beginning of a process.

(Bill Reid) Mr. Reid says that housing and gentrification are systemic issues that affect the entire town, not just the Broadway corridor. It's important to understand this, in order to get to a solution with traction.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton says that visioning is more problem solving, and she'd like that to be the second step. She'd like to get away from being too incremental.

(Lex Skowronek) Mr. Skowronek says he doesn't understand what the contest is going for. He asks if the entries are supposed to be grounded in reality or more visionary.

(Barbara Thornton) Ms. Thornton says she's looking for visionary ideas.

(Lex Skowronek) Mr. Skowronek says that wasn't clear from the presentation. He's not sure if a contest is the best way to do this.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says he understands the conflict that Mr. Skowronek is seeing.

(Lex Skowronek) Mr. Skowronek thinks that a more cooperative process would be a better way to do visioning. He thinks the time period isn't long enough, and things may end up being rushed.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins asks Mr. Skowronek for his thoughts on how the process might be more collaborative, and what the timeline should be.

(Lex Skowronek) Mr. Skowronek thinks people could get together for short periods at a time.

(Alexandra Lee) Ms. Lee asks if the designers will be compensated.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins says the plan is to give three $300 prizes.

(Alexandra Lee) Ms. Lee thinks it will be hard to find entrants. She thinks a 2--3 day weekend charette would be a better approach. It would be good to have residents working with the designers. She suggests doing the contest in the fall, and trying to recruit student designers from Tufts. She feels that charettes help to get buy in and tend to produce better results.

(Elinor Charlton) Ms. Charlton agrees that a $300 prize is too small. She thinks the invitation criteria need to be very clear, and that Ms. Broder's earlier comments are important. She suggests that one of the criteria be to bury utilities. And if the goal is to be pedestrian and transit friendly, the invitation should be clear about what we already have.

(Lex Skowronek) Mr. Skowronek thinks that $300 is not a lot of reward for something that could be a lot of work. He's a graphic design student, and his teacher has been stressing that designers shouldn't undercharge for their work.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins acknowledges that money is hard to come by, and the CEG might need to raise some funds.