Students from UPD’s second semester core urban planning studio have published “Connect Chelsea: Three Visions for a Gateway City,” a report of their recent work in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
An inner-ring suburb of Boston, Chelsea has a long history of industrial activity. It has been devastated twice by major fires, and the city has struggled for years with economic and social problems. Recently however there has been a surge in development interest, including the FBI’s decision to locate its new regional headquarters in the city. Further investment is expected in Chelsea as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts plans to extend a rapid transit line into the area.
Connect Chelsea offers three distinct proposals for how the city’s citizens and leaders can harness new development in order to improve quality of life. The plan’s recommendations, which range from converting portions of the industrial waterfront into parkland to the creation of an incubator space for culinary businesses, arose from student engagement with over 600 residents, workers, business owners, city officials, developers, non-profit organizations, and visitors to Chelsea.
This engagement process was a critical learning experience for many students. Ethan Lassiter (MUP ’15) said, “Citizen engagement is an important and powerful way to challenge the norms and values of professional planning. The process helps ensure our work matches the actual public interest.” Martha Pym (MUP ’15) said that leading citizen participation exercises helped the student planners understand “the interests of the people you are speaking to, who they represent, and how this affects and shapes their feedback.”
The citizens with whom the MUP students interacted did not always agree on the best path for Chelsea. Said Pym, “It was also interesting to learn how citizen engagement created very different and sometimes contradictory responses and priorities.” For instance, while some citizens supported the construction of new housing and commercial establishments in Chelsea, other individuals opposed such developments due to concerns regarding gentrification. Despite these differences of opinion, students and faculty hope that the plan will have a lasting impact on Chelsea.