What will the city of Malden look like in 10 years? The city and its citizens are making decisions today that could shape the city for years to come.
They are continuing a process that began in November of 2015 and was explored in a study done by the non-profit group, the Urban Land Institute, in June, 2015.
Since January of 2017, Malden residents have been working with Malden city officials to evaluate current zoning, the moratorium on new construction, green spaces, and recreation space. Residents have submitted surveys and attended public forums. In March, the Community Opportunities Group, Inc., a Boston consulting firm, released a Growth Management Study for the city of Malden based on the surveys, public meetings, and data provided by various department heads of the city of Malden. This is a fact finding study with a public engagement process.
Concurrently, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council has been working with an 11-member committee and the Malden Redevelopment Authority to update of the existing 2009 Open Space and Recreation Plan. The committee is comprised of residents, members of city departments that oversee recreation, and representatives of Malden’s organizations and community groups. This updated plan is necessary to qualify for grants and programs that will ensure Malden can provide its citizens with adequate open space and recreation opportunities for health and well being. Over 90 percent of Malden’s land is developed.
The updated Open Space and Recreation plan has been drafted and will be presented for public comments at the Malden YMCA on Wednesday, May 3, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
These various, multi-faceted initiatives were sparked in November of 2015, when Malden residents voted (4,126-1,224) for a one-year building moratorium on major housing construction projects of five or more units outside of the Central Business District. The city council voted in November of 2016 to extend the moratorium for another six months to include the Central Business District, excluding most of the downtown region.
Those attending the May 3 event may wish to review a massive study completed two years earlier that could serve as a kind of blueprint for future efforts. The Urban Land Institute Final Report 2015 was released in early 2016.
In June 2015, MassDevelopment, a Massachusetts economic and development agency, recruited the global non-profit group Urban Land Institute. The institute, according to its mission statement, “provides leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.”
For one week, six leading urban planners from around the United States immersed themselves in the two gateway cities of Malden and Everett. They ate, walked, and talked with residents, organizations and city leaders. They combined the communities’ input with information to create a vision from a national perspective for the two cities.
The panel of national urban planners then presented their potential vision of Malden and Everett to the public at River’s Edge on the Malden River. The audience included the administrations of Malden and Everett, state legislators, and residents.
Kamuron Guro, City Manager of Burien, Washington, opened the panel discussion with the comment: “For the first two days, these experts drank from the fire hose; collecting lots of information in a short amount of time. I, for one, learned some takeaways for my home town in Washington.”
Michael Reynolds, of Newport Beach, California, a real estate economist, who specializes in analyzing trends in demographics, focused on the potential of the the Malden River. “When we first arrived, what impressed the panelists the most was the river,” Reynolds said, “This is a tremendous asset.”
Reynolds then spoke of the waves of change that have affected our communities: the first European colonies of people searching for religious freedom in the 1600’s, the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and recent economic declines.
“Now, there is a new wave to catch and by reading and anticipating the wave as it approaches, you can carve that wave and harness its energy,” he said.
Reynolds spoke of the economic pressures from Boston and Cambridge. The positive pressures include paralleling economic growth; the negative pressures include high costs of living and doing business. The demographic growth and needs include in-town living, sustainability, walkability, accessibility, and diversity. Urban job concentration is high (17% of Massachusetts jobs are in Boston) and are projected to increase both in Boston and the metro-north communities.
Industry has declined in some sectors, but the food manufacturing industry which has a presence in Malden and Everett is projected to grow. Malden and Everett offer lower operating costs for businesses than Boston, Cambridge, or Somerville.
The panel commented on the lack of accessibility and visibility to the Malden River, to the Wellington train station which is currently under construction, and increasing traffic congestion. The two gateway cities, Malden and Everett, lack gateways to their own cores. Reynolds noted that the cities lack comprehensive signage; both cities lack the perception of economic development and direction.
The panel discussed how a balance between residential and commercial development is crucial to carve out opportunities for job growth and businesses. Brian Coleman of Brooklyn, NY, (Greenport Manufacturing Design Center) said that manufacturing jobs are good jobs, even if there are fewer available. A wide accessibility to public transportation is a huge asset that would attract manufacturers he said.
Coleman believes “that strict zoning would protect the existing businesses. This would encourage further investments for improvements and expansion.”
He recommended that industries needing skilled work forces could develop this through Malden High School, Bunker Hill Community College, and technical schools. Existing businesses would need access to money to improve aging facilities. During Coleman’s interviews, business owners mentioned infrastructure flaws including poor water and sewer, electricity, and lack of dependable high speed internet service.
Coleman emphasized that Malden is ripe for food manufacturing. Food trucks have a presence in Malden and there are a few local large food manufacturers such as Piantedosi Baking Company, New England Coffee Company, and Hoff’s Bakery. Coleman suggested there are hidden opportunities for larger scale production of ethnic foods. A development plan for quality, environmentally friendly manufacturing will be critical to retaining the anchors and attracting new businesses, Coleman concluded.
Coleman implored, “Be patient, be judicious, and wait for the perfect corporate citizens.”
Sandra Kulli, of Kulli Marketing in Los Angeles, Calif., highlighted her interviews with more than 100 Malden and Everett residents. Kulli was impressed by the richness of local history. Three local businesses recently celebrated their 100th anniversaries. Kelli said residents pointed to not only their homes on maps, but also to where their parents and their grandparents live. They pointed to the bridge where they used to jump into the Malden River.
Kulli identified two prominent ideas from these interviews: culture of health and determination for hard work.
A public health care worker said, “What I would really like is to go outside, meet my family and have a picnic by the river.”
Resident cyclists love the bike trail and are optimistic for more bike path connections. A rower who lives and works in Malden said, ”Gosh, if I could put my boat right beside the river, it would make my life amazing!”
Ideas circulated among the interviews included food truck rodeos, events such as Art in the Park for families, outdoor festivals, and access to the Malden River.
A Malden High School student said, “I would love to be able to walk along the river, cross a bridge, meet my cousin and go to Sky Zone and never take a bus.”
The Immigrant Learning Center would like to see more community gardens and more farmer’s markets. There are industrial dreamers: a Boston screen printer would love to move his business here. A furniture maker would love to move down here to be closer to Boston. Tripe and Conch processors would like to move here from Chinatown. A company that creates specialty electronics who export to China could envision locating in Malden.
Ralph Nunez, owner of Design Team Plus of Birmingham, Michigan, is a landscape designer and urban planner. The Malden River is part of our DNA, being our first food source, our first transit source and a place to relax, he said. The industries came to the river for practical reasons. Then the workers and their families followed. Now, water is the unifying element for public health and recreation.
However, Malden River needs the “WOW!” factor such as water taxis and boat rentals, Nunez said. Access routes would connect neighborhoods to the Malden River Walkway to the Northern Strand Trail. An interactive water sculpture could celebrate the river it emerges from its culvert under the city.
Leigh Christy of Los Angeles, Calif., continued this water theme. She advocates for rigorous landscape design while preserving the manufacturing prospects of the river frontage.
“Celebrate the existing industrial hidden river: bring the river to the people and the people to the river,” Christy said.
The audience murmured positively when she spoke of a bridge connecting Everett and Malden. Open spaces can be functional landscapes that include wetland restoration with native plantings. She identified examples of green infrastructure: green roofs, water sculptures, complete streets safe for pedestrians and cyclists, and a public boathouse.
Steve Antupit, of Seattle, an urban strategist, asked the audience, “Who is not in the room? Who are the people who have two jobs and cannot come to these events?”
“The effective concept for inclusion of all people is to meet people where they are,” he said. Food provides opportunities for public engagement, such as food and cultural festivals. Antupit suggested that each neighborhood have its delegates meet for collaborative meetings and events and then report back to their neighbors.
Cameron Gurol, city manager of Burien, WA., concerned himself with the public sector. The institute panel recommends that the different departments and agencies of both cities align and coordinate their efforts more often. The team effort will help on a daily basis and with crisis management.
Gurol mentioned that The Mystic Valley Development Commission is a good example of partnerships between the two cities. The MVDC could guide public investment, branding and marketing, and regulatory issues within both cities.
Gurol recommended that the cities utilize MassDevelopment which has strong relations with state and federal legislators. It is important to update and inform the different branches of government, he said. Public facilities should be a primary constant investment. The panel was pleased to learn that there is city staff to recruit and foster development of businesses.
The panel concluded that compartmentalizing the growth into strategic districts could be helpful. There could be a manufacturing district, a food innovation district, a riverside health and wellness district according to the panel. This could help focus public investment, branding, marketing, and regulatory issues, the panel concluded.
Gurol told city leaders, “Be selective and patient for good relations with development. Encourage visions. Say no to some development and set good guidelines. Vision is key to success for a common destination and to align our efforts. Just like rowing, you need to synchronize your patterns with a good rudder.”