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Federal aid coming to cities to help boost smart growth in cities north of Boston

By Brenda J. Buote
Globe Correspondent / November 10, 2011

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An infusion of federal cash will soon be invested in several cities north of Boston to boost local economic development in ways that are consistent with smart growth principles and promote social equity.

Federal money will probably start flowing into Chelsea, Everett, and Lynn after the New Year, said Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. The regional planning agency created the Metro Boston Consortium for Sustainable Communities, which announced the funds and oversees the projects.

The consortium’s goal is to advance equity and sustainability - principles embraced by the smart growth movement, which underscores the importance of concentrating growth in pedestrian-friendly areas with a mix of residential and commercial development.

“There’s a way to grow smart in every community, whether that community is urban, suburban, or rural,’’ said Draisen. “These grants will help communities tackle a range of challenges head-on.’’

In Everett, $52,796 in federal funding will be used to develop specific goals for housing, transportation, economic development, and public services. Throughout the process, planners will employ innovative techniques to engage residents of diverse backgrounds.

“It seems like, in the past, when we would try to hold public meetings, we had a limited amount of residents showing up,’’ said Marzie Galazka, director of community development in Everett. “We want to ensure that minority populations are represented and have a voice. With this grant, we will be able to do more than invite residents to a meeting we’re holding; we’ll be able to attend their neighborhood meetings and festivals, and meet with their community leaders and residents.’’

Everett has a community development plan that addresses a range of issues, from housing and transportation to open space and community development, but the city does not have a master plan to guide future growth. This project will examine issues of displacement and lay the foundation for a sustainable, equitable master planning process.

“Everett is a community that is really changing demographically, more rapidly than people realize,’’ said Draisen, referring to a recent influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants. “Already, lots of folks are moving there to find affordable housing. Development will happen. The question is, is development something that will happen to Everett, or will Everett decide what kind of development it wants?’’

In Lynn, a program called From Mills to Main Streets will provide assistance to minority and immigrant-owned businesses, from technical support to training.

“Our focus will be on helping immigrants who are already in business, to grow and expand,’’ said Marcia Drew Hohn, director of the Immigrant Learning Center Inc.’s Public Education Institute in Malden. The center joined with the Massachusetts Community Development Corp. and MassINC to pilot this project. The goal is to develop an infrastructure that will support immigrant entrepreneurs, similar to one in Philadelphia.

The $60,000 federal grant in Lynn will be used to develop the best ways to reach local immigrant entrepreneurs and help them increase their businesses so that the most successful initiatives can be replicated in other urban gateway communities.

“Commerce begets commerce,’’ said Hohn. “Successful business leads to cleaner, more welcoming neighborhoods. In gateway communities like Lynn, small immigrant businesses play a key role in the renewal of urban neighborhoods.’’

In Chelsea, planners will develop a green infrastructure plan for a half-mile stretch of Broadway, encompassing a 10-block area between Crescent and Webster avenues. The goals of the $70,000 project are to reduce water pollution, including runoff into Chelsea Creek; reduce flooding; and restore ground water. The project will focus on storm-water management tools that can be applied to other urban communities in the Mystic River Watershed.

“This particular neighborhood in Chelsea has a number of characteristics that we liked for this project: diverse population living in a dense environment, high impervious cover, pollution that needed to be addressed, and a street that was already in the capital planning process with the city,’’ said Patrick M. Herron, director of water quality monitoring for the Mystic River Watershed Association. “Incorporating [green] structures into larger ongoing projects is the most cost-effective way of seeing these solutions implemented.’’

As they work together on the green infrastructure plan, residents and planners will consider such solutions as rain gardens and stormwater tree boxes and planters.

In a separate project, $30,000 in federal funds will aid regional planning efforts for communities along the Orange Line corridor from the Forest Hills station in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood to the Oak Grove station in Malden. The Orange Line provides service to parts of Boston, Malden, Medford, Melrose, and Somerville.

Funding for these local projects is coming from a $4 million regional planning grant awarded to the Metro Boston consortium last year by the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which is composed of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation, and Environmental Protection Agency.

Last week, 11 projects in Massachusetts were awarded funding through the consortium, Draisen said. Thirty-three applicants had submitted proposals.

“Our goal over the next two months is to scope all the projects, determine a final budget for each one, and decide exactly who will do what,’’ said Draisen. “We hope to have the projects running by January.’’

Brenda J. Buote may be reached at