November 29, 2021 Mayor Michelle Wu has given a lot of thought to the future of historic Boston
Historic Boston Inc. joins with Boston’s preservation community to welcome newly inaugurated Mayor Michelle Wu. As candidate for mayor, Wu suggested her administration will advance resources, regulation and policy measures that support preservation and community planning for historic neighborhoods.
In a lengthy interview with the Boston Preservation Alliance before the election, candidate Wu expounded on her approach to stewarding the historic city as it continues to grow. Asked what she would do to improve the Boston Landmarks Commission’s ability to protect designated buildings, Wu said that she would assess regulatory tools such as Article 80 development review for their ability to support shared community goals including preservation, climate resiliency, racial equity, and accessibility.”
She added: “I look forward to working in partnership with the preservation community to ensure a newly established, fully-resourced planning department includes experts in historical preservation to ensure that preservation and development can go hand-in-hand.”
Asked whether she believes the Commission’s budget is sufficient, Wu said: “I was glad to see that the Landmarks Commission’s budget grew to include another preservation planner this year, but moving forward we need to ensure BLC has all the resources it needs to shift to a more proactive approach, as well as work through a growing backlog of requests. BLC’s work is essential to our shared goals of building a city that sees, values, and treasures every community.”
However, she said, “We need a more comprehensive study on Boston’s historic resources to serve as a baseline as we work to celebrate the historic significance of our built environment across all our neighborhoods. I’m also committed to better integrating BLC’s work with that of other departments, particularly the Community Preservation Committee and the Treasury Department, so that we can leverage funds to prioritize critical preservation work.”
Candidate Wu said that to balance the critical need for more housing with the desire to respect the history of Boston’s neighborhoods, her administration would facilitate community-led master plans that should include thoughtful consideration and appreciation of the historic built environment.
The process should not depend as much as it has in the past on exceptions to the zoning code given out by the BPDA and Zoning Board of Appeals on a case by case basis, she said. According to Wu, “Variances should be the exception to the rule, not the prevailing approach to planning and development. Our zoning code should be updated to reflect a citywide master planning effort that takes an intentional approach to valuing our historical buildings and neighborhoods.”
In her 68-page “Fixing Boston’s Broken Development Process: Why and How to Abolish the BPDA” document, released during her campaign, Wu did not explicitly describe what her administration’s preservation strategy would be. However, her emphasis on breaking up the Boston Planning and Development Agency underscores her overall theme of planning and regulatory reviews being more responsive, transparent and predictable with residents throughout the city’s neighborhoods.
According to Wu’s proposal, “Boston’s residents must take back control of their future and institute a democratic system of planning and development that sets a vision determined by the people, not developers driven by profit.”
Speaking to the Boston Preservation Alliance, Wu concluded: “As we take on the entrenched interests that have benefited from our opaque, outdated development approvals process, I look forward to deepening my partnership with our preservation community to simultaneously celebrate and mark historically significant elements of our built environment and push for climate justice, housing justice, economic justice, racial justice, and transportation justice in how we create a city that cares for all Bostonians.”
We thank the Boston Preservation Alliance for exploring the candidates’ views on the subject this year. Historic Boston welcomes Mayor Wu and looks forward to working with her as she unveils a new and more inclusive view of preservation and development.