By Luis Bravo
Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston and Mayor Brian Arrigo of Revere joined together last year to present a formal proposal to Amazon’s request for the construction of its second central office (HQ2) after having been finalists with Washington D.C. from a list of 20 candidate cities around the country.
In this proposal, the mayors highlighted the excellence of a highly educated and qualified workforce in the field of technology and science; the virtues of its transport system and its strong connectivity; the vision of an innovative future that is described through the mayoral program “Imagine Boston 2030”; a strong economy, emerging and in constant growth; an attitude strongly inclined towards energy efficiency, conservation of the environment and reduction of pollution; the tendency to create open spaces and access to parks; and the pride of being a cosmopolitan city that hosts a conglomeration of residents who come from more than 100 countries and where cultural and ethnic diversity is celebrated.
Amazon hopes to generate around 50,000 high-paying jobs with this second corporate headquarters in the next 15 years, for which it will invest more than $5 billion in the construction of its new offices, generating thousands of additional jobs and parallel investments of billions of dollars in the surrounding communities.
The proposal also highlights the economic and demographic boom of Boston with a projection of approximately 724,000 residents by the year 2030, which has generated a high demand for housing, which the city is determined to satisfy by adding 53,000 new housing units for that year.
The land of Suffolk Downs – which neither the Casino nor Wynn Resorts could occupy – appears as an open space of 160 acres available for the construction of a good project, because it is located near the coast, the airport and the center of the city, has two train stations of the Blue Line of the MBTA, and offers optimal conditions for transit, connectivity, commerce, education and community development.
These characteristics of the Suffolk Downs land give you the opportunity to redesign and transform into a new neighborhood of mixed-use and income with significant investment potential in both Boston and Revere. In addition, Suffolk Downs can be surrounded by shops, restaurants, recreational facilities, open spaces, and nightlife, which will give it the status of an optimal location to live, work and enjoy.
But the proposal also offers other neighborhoods in Boston that could also house Amazon’s HQ2. Places like the Boston Waterfront and the Boston Center; South End, Back Bay, Roxbury and Widett Circle; and Allston/Brighton and South Station, would have to go through local permitting and, above all, community processes so that proposals evolve as a result of discussions with the community specifically, Amazon and other interested parties.
Given the size, scope and inevitable impact of the proposed development, it is imperative to have a robust community process, transparent and oriented above all to the benefit of the residents and not only to the benefit of the developers.
It is time for the current HYM Investment Group (HYM) Suffolk Downs land developer to begin a strong bilingual dialogue with the community to solicit feedback on the vision of their plans in meetings with the residents of East Boston and Revere to maximize the participation of the residents.
HYM should consider with-in its plans that East Boston and Revere are neighborhoods that have a large immigrant population that works very hard in the hotel and restaurant services industry, construction, gardening and others that currently face many problems. One of those main problems is gentrification; the eviction and displacement of entire families that cannot pay the high costs of rent, and do not find affordable housing anywhere.
Another problem they face is the bankruptcy of small businesses that have served for a good number of years; environmental pollution due to severe vehicular congestion caused by the presence of more cars in its streets and the pollution produced by the airport with its airplanes and the expansion of its Terminal E and the construction of its parking lot for 5,000 cars; lack of extracurricular programs for before and after school for children and youth; and the constant and growing threat of coastal flooding due to sea level rise and severe climate events due to climate change.
HYM should consider that as Suffolk Downs develops, residents will also face problems with the buses and public transportation trains of the MBTA, vehicular congestion on both Route 1A and the narrow streets of East Boston and Revere, as well as with the connection with Boston on the other side of the tunnel. That is why HYM should be planning a good investment to improve current public transport and alternatives that improve the flow of transport because otherwise its huge investment would turn the area into chaos and would no longer be seen as a great development.
HYM should remember that the Suffolk Downs project must remain focused on the economic needs of East Boston and Revere during and after the construction process, so priority should be given to hiring personnel from these cities, offering them the rights and benefits work that contemplate state and federal laws, and living wages that allow them to feel the prosperity of the area and their families, which means that you should forget about offering corporate and neo-liberal wages, where the employee is wrung out, exploited and then discarded.
Housing is another aspect that HYM should consider if it continues with its plans for the development of Suffolk Downs. Just as Boston boasts and prides itself on being a very diverse city, so is its socio-economic level, where the base of the social pyramid is made up of almost 60% of residents of Latin American origin, who represent high levels of poverty, very limited education, a short-sighted vision of the future, and are victims along with other cultures and poor whites of gentrification, eviction and displacement produced precisely by these urban developments put forward by the city. HYM should then consider building a good amount of affordable housing for this segment of society while developing affordable, high-level housing for this complex.
In conclusion, HYM plans to build a very large plant in a site with one of the best locations, and whatever happens, with Amazon or without Amazon, will build 16.5 million square feet of new residential, commercial, office, hotel, and laboratories. Eleven million square feet for Boston, and 5.5 million for Revere.
That is why we expect HYM to carry out an open and transparent process where you have the opportunity to review the fine print of the agreements that can be agreed upon; and take into account the contributions of the community, of that community that will suffer more seriously the damage of the development of Suffolk Downs.