Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why Artificial Turf Does Not Make Sense in Somerville

Somerville needs more green space. We have the least amount of open space of any city in New England. We do not even measure what percentage of that open space is green, natural space, but considering what we count as open space and how little of that is covered in plant life, and from looking at aerial maps and seeing mostly pavement, it’s not hard to conclude that we have desperately little green space.

Problem 1: We need to define green space and open space independently so we can have separate requirements for each. Civilizations define what is important to them; Somerville has yet to delineate green space separately from open space. Both green and open space are important parts of a healthy community, but they fill different needs. Based on an extensive body of peer-reviewed studies, city dwellers need proximity to “natural” or “green” settings to maintain their mental and physical well-being; students learn better when they have access to natural outdoor space; air quality and environmental health is improved. Designating paved alleyways, artificial turf fields, grass fields, foam-rubber covered playgrounds, paved plazas, grassy parks, and thickly wooded areas all in the same category is confusing and harmful.

Problem 2:  The National Recreation and Park Association recommends a minimum of 6.25 acres of open space per 1,000 people in an urban area; Somerville has 2.1 acres per 1,000 people, which includes paved school yards and cemeteries. We have one third of the minimum recommendation for an urban area, and little to no extra space which to transition into additional open or green space. Somerville is overhauling its zoning code; as the most densely packed community in New England, we need to go above and beyond common practices on open space requirements, yet, if Union Square’s Zoning Plan is any indication, we will have less than half of the amount we need to meet Somervision’s goal for Union Square (34% open space) and will include sidewalks as part of the 15% open space. We will regret this decision for generations.

Problem 3: Despite the acknowledgment by City officials that Somerville does not have enough green space, and despite Somervision’s goal to increase our open space by 125 acres, the current version of the Fields Master Plan adds six new artificial turf playing fields in Somerville. Four are planned to go onto currently grass fields (Conway Park, Draw 7, and Dilboy Auxiliary A and B) and two to go onto currently paved schoolyards (Healey and Winter Hill). This does not include the artificial turf field in the designs for the rebuilt High School. These six are in addition to the three artificial turf fields we already have at Dilboy, East Somerville Community School, and Capuano.

If this decision was just about usage then artificial turf would make sense, but it’s not. There are environmental and financial concerns to factor in, as well. The field plan only mentions usage data though, and this skews the conversation. We need to have all information so we can seriously weigh the options. How much will these six (or more) fields cost to install, maintain, and replace when they wear out? How does that compare to grass? What is the environmental implication of laying plastic on our fields? What does it do to water run-off, air quality, and ambient temperature? How does it affect human health? How does it impact habitats for birds, bees, and other pollinators? Where does the old artificial turf go when we replace it? What chemicals are used to clean the plastic? What chemicals are used in conventional grass maintenance? How does organic grass maintenance compare to conventional in terms of cost, durability, and environmental and human health? These should not just be the questions of a few concerned residents; these are vitally important to everyone and we must demand answers to these questions from our City officials.

Problem 4: Artificial turf is not green space, despite its color. It is plastic carpet made to resemble grass blades. To soften the surface for safer play, an infill is put in between the blades. Crumb rubber, which is crumbled tires, is the most common infill because it is cheap. According to FieldTurf, a leading artificial turf company, approximately 20,000 tires go into one field. It was even touted as an environmentally-friendly option because it keeps tires out of landfills! If these tires were on your car and you wanted to get rid of them, they would be treated as hazardous waste. The EPA is now studying whether crumb rubber is too dangerous to human health to use as infill. There are other infills, with varying costs, health concerns, and replacement times, but no matter the material, this is not a natural space once artificial turf has been laid down. Therefore, putting environmental and health concerns aside for a moment, it doesn’t make sense for the City with the least amount of open space in New England, and by extension incredibly little of that green, to cover four of our grass fields with plastic. And, think of the lost opportunity to add real green space at the Healey and Winter Hill schoolyards and at the High School.

Problem 5: We are blaming the poor quality of our fields on the fact that they are grass, rather than focusing on the real reason they are a mess: lack of proper maintenance. Any grass expert you talk to agrees that there is a basic level of care to keep a grass field alive, including watering, aeration, and reseeding. Our fields do not have the luxury of any of this on a regular basis. Yet, when the grass wears away and holes are worn into the field, instead of looking to improve the care the fields receive, we are told instead that the only answer is artificial turf. We are missing a critical step: before saying grass won’t work, let’s actually try it in a serious way. Professional grass experts from far and near believe that the usage we are asking of our fields is doable on grass with the proper maintenance. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to try this healthier, less expensive option that untold professional athletes have publicly expressed a preference for? There is a company in Marblehead, MA that maintains Marblehead city grass fields with similar usage requirements to Somerville by implementing organic maintenance. They feel strongly that organically-maintained grass is actually more durable than conventionally-maintained, is less expensive, and is significantly healthier for humans and the environment. Why jump directly to the most expensive and most harmful option? This does not make fiscal or environmental sense.

Problem 6: We are thinking only in the short term. We are trying to maximize organized sports’ playing time for now, at the expense of environmental health and the diversity of use on our fields for the long term. If we keep taking away green space at the rate we are planning to, our grandchildren won’t know what a grass field looks like. Organized youth sports, including high school athletics, get priority use of the fields. The more plastic fields, the more they can be scheduled for organized sports, the less time remains for community use. The general public, who also has a right to these fields, would have more use for grass. No one wants to sunbathe or picnic or play catch on 150F degree plastic carpet (actually, food and drinks other than water are banned on artificial turf anyway so forget the picnics). So, even if it’s available, it’s less likely to be used for non-organized sports uses if it is artificial turf. Because we live in an urban area where backyards are small, if they exist at all, and many that do exist are paved over, our public parks and fields need to do double duty: in addition to providing organized athletic space, they must also serve as surrogate backyards, places where people can congregate, relax, and recreate. There are too many restrictions on artificial turf fields to make them functional as anything other than organized athletic space.

Problem 7: We like things bright and shiny. Foam rubber playgrounds and community path borders and artificial turf playing fields may look like fun Dr. Seuss landscapes, but they are adding petroleum-based materials onto our fragile environment and they are not necessary. Colorful? Yes. The only option? No. Just because this is the trend in playgrounds and playing fields does not mean it’s right. Since when does Somerville follow just because it’s popular?

For a city that prides itself on taking the lead in so many areas - the plastic bag ban, incentivizing solar electricity and rainwater collection, being a sanctuary city, proudly displaying the Black Lives Matter banner, encouraging exercise through Shape Up Somerville, strongly supporting our local businesses, striving to be carbon neutral by 2050 - we are failing our natural environment, and by extension, failing ourselves. Plastic carpet on our playing fields will increase use, but it also increases our carbon footprint and the heat island effect, decreases habitat and places for our residents to experience nature in our highly-impermeable and paved city, and is a permanent step in the wrong direction for a City that strives to be a great place to live, work, play, and raise a family.

The planet is resilient and we are used to it recovering, bouncing back, surviving the clear-cutting, poisoning, burning, and otherwise destructive activities human beings have blindly thrown at it. But Earth’s reserves are drying up. We see this in more severe storms, hotter weather, extreme droughts in some places and unprecedented flooding in others. On a local level, we deal with a decrepit sewer system that cannot handle the excess water from a rainstorm. We need more permeable surfaces that can absorb the stormwater into the ground, not fewer. We need to increase cool surfaces, not remove them. Our current debate over grass vs. artificial turf and natural playground vs. foam rubber or even native trees vs. non-natives may seem like just a drop in the bucket: how can one field or one tree really make a difference in the grand scheme of things when there is so much wrong with the world? But can you imagine if everyone felt and acted this way? We are holding onto a fragile thread, to keep our planet livable for generations to come. We must do everything in our power to improve the health of our environment. We owe it to ourselves, to our children and grandchildren, to the other animals and plants we share space with, and to the rock we call home, hurtling through space, that has sustained life for millennia. We don’t want to be the ones who made the final, critical error.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

EPA Moving Toward White House Review Of Federal Synthetic Turf Plan

EPA and other federal agencies collaborating on a research plan for investigating the human health risks of playing on fields and playgrounds made with tire crumb rubber are awaiting the results of an external peer review before seeking White House approval of the plan, while at the same time reviewing public comments questioning the plan.
The agencies' "Synthetic Turf Fields with Tire Crumb Rubber Infill Research Protocol" document is currently going through external peer review managed by a contractor, an EPA spokesman says. "After the peer-review is complete, the next step is for the research protocol document to go through the [White House] Information Collection Request (ICR) review process before the research can proceed . . ."
The research plan must undergo scrutiny from the White House Office of Budget and Management because the research involves collecting information from more than 10 people or entities. The spokesman did not indicate when the peer review will conclude, saying only that the results of the review will be posted on EPA's website.
EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry (ATSDR) are leading the federal research project, while the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is also collaborating. EPA and ATSDR released in February a plan for two new studies, one intended to "characterize field use procedures and conditions," by recording field use and maintenance patterns at 40 synthetic turf fields spread across the United States, according to ATSDR's Feb. 18 Federal Register notice.
The second study is thought to be "the first assessment of activities conducted on synthetic turf for the purpose of characterizing potential exposure patterns," according to the notice, by surveying people who frequently use synthetic turf fields.
The Register notice adds that "if time and resources allow, we will conduct a full exposure characterization sub-study among a subset of the respondents. If possible, we will use the facilities sampled in the first study to conduct activities for the full exposure characterization of facility users. The exposure characterization sub-study will likely include but is not limited to field environment and material sampling, personal air monitoring, dermal sampling, and urine collection."
Research Plan
The research plan is drawing a mixed reaction from environmentalists and industry, with advocates pressing for a ban on the use of such fields by children younger than 6 years old until the research is complete and industry groups urging the agencies to clarify in any communications about the studies the levels of contaminants in the tire crumb rubber used to make the synthetic turf as well as reporting the chemicals and contaminants identified.
In its May 2 comments, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) criticizes the federal research plan, saying that it will only delay action, that it should focus more on lead and there should be some link to regulatory action. PEER calls for the agencies to "issue a joint public statement urging that tire-crumb not be installed as play surfaces for children under age 13 until a thorough risk assessment and analysis of toxic pathways has been completed"; to standardize and monitor the components used to make artificial turf, and for CPSC to declare playground and sports fields at schools to be children's products. The last action would place the grounds under the third-party testing requirements of the 2008 CPSC Improvement Act, which among other things limits lead content in children's products to 100 parts per million.
Similar concerns are raised by the Safe and Healthy Playing Fields Coalition, which joins PEER's call for CPSC to declare the artificial playgrounds and fields children's products, and expands the request by calling on the agencies to place a moratorium on construction of any new fields of this type. Further, the group describes concerns of cancer clusters of youth soccer players, particularly goaltenders, who they say have the greatest exposure to tire crumb rubber in artificial turf. The group notes the efforts of one Washington state soccer coach to gather the names and information on some 200 youth soccer players diagnosed with various cancers, the majority of them goaltenders.
"We respectfully request that an official study of the soccer player cancer cluster be initiated by [the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention] immediately," the group writes in itsMay 2 comments.
Environmental Risks
Meanwhile, the environmental groupDelaware Riverkeeper Network, argues that in addition to human health concerns, the components of synthetic turf fields and playgrounds also pose environmental risks. The group's April 29 comments point to studies indicating that "[a]s rubber degrades it can leach toxic substances which can contaminate soil, plants and aquatic ecosystems."
The group argues that "it is also clear that additional study for water and other natural resources is needed."
By contrast, the Synthetic Turf Council, representing makers and installers of synthetic turf, calls on EPA and the other agencies to alter the federal research plan to add sampling controls of air and soil near the synthetic fields selected for the study, consider the risks and benefits of alternatives to synthetic fields, and report chemical components within synthetic fields "in context with regard to health-based guidelines," the association's May 2 comments say.
The group explains that "the identification of chemical compounds in recycled rubber must include context, i.e., a baseline below which the presence of those constituents has been determined to present no significant health hazards (e.g., health-based standards for toys) . . . if the presence of chemicals found at low levels is reported, the Agencies must provide context to that report by noting (if so) that the chemical compounds are present only at levels below which there is any significant risk. And, the Agencies should note whether such chemicals are also present in natural grass and dirt fields, especially those in urban and suburban settings, where contributions from pollutants deposited from vehicular exhaust, paint chips, and other dusts and debris are common."
The group adds that the industry uses two health-based guidelines in creating the synthetic fields, including European, CPSC and EPA lead standards in toys and soils and "Human health risk assessment models to estimate additional cancer risk from exposure to [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)] via the dermal and ingestion exposure pathways are benchmarked against exposure to background level of PAH's and arsenic in urban and rural soils."
Industries' Concerns
The industry association explains that it has communicated its concern with local sampling controls to California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), which is conducting its own research into synthetic turf fields and tire crumb rubber playgrounds. The sampling controls allow discovery of other potential sources of chemicals beyond the tire crumb rubber, the industry association argues, and as a reference to chemicals that may be found on grass fields and soils.
"Finally, failing to utilize adequate sampling controls will call into question the validity of the results of the federal research. We note that California OEHHA staff had initially not included control soil sampling in its research, but is reconsidering that position based on comments at a recent Public Meeting of its Synthetic Turf Scientific Advisory Panel . . .”
An industry coalition including the American Chemistry Council, National Manufacturers' Association and others raises these concerns as well, while also urging the agencies to analyze all existing peer-reviewed studies and to create a scientific review panel.
The industry groups call on the agencies to "engage in a comprehensive and thoroughly objective analysis of all available peer-reviewed research concerning crumb rubber and its composition, including studies on exposure. There has been much research on the issue, and it is vital that the agencies avoid selection bias when determining key knowledge gaps, which is one of the specific objectives indicated in the Federal Research Action Plan."
Regarding the review panel, the industry groups say that it "should be comprised of subject matter experts from industry, academia and the research community and would help minimize any duplication of efforts by the agencies. Importantly, the scientific review panel should provide comments on agencies' efforts." -- Maria Hegstad

Monday, June 6, 2016

Response to Updated Fields Master Plan from Green & Open Somerville

Dear Mayor Curtatone, Honorable Aldermen, Luisa, Brad, Arn, and Jill,

I have read through the updated plan and there has clearly been a lot of work put into this document; I appreciate that many people have spent time and effort to write it. However, I am discouraged. I know the City is balancing many differing needs, desires, and interest groups, and while I understand that it is impossible to make all people 100% happy, I do think that there is a way to increase the use we get out of these fields while at the same time keeping them grass, and increasing the quality and quantity of Somerville's green space. 

There are a few issues that require further explanation.

1. On page 88 under FAQs: Maintenance and Best Practices, the Sports Turf Managers Association is cited as recommending 500 hours of use on a natural grass field. I have also seen this attribution in City presentations, as well as from Weston and Sampson regarding Lincoln Park. I spoke to Kristen Althouse, education manager at STMA, in March of this year, to get more information on this recommendation because it was a lot lower than multiple professional grass field managers were saying grass could take. She said that STMA does not have a recommendation for a maximum use on natural grass fields. She said enough people have asked about this that they were working on coming up with a recommendation, but "there are so many variables that go into determining the number of usage hours a field can withstand – soil type, turfgrass type, weather, maintenance practices, sport being played, etc. Also, STMA is researching these variables over the course of the next year and hopes to have some technology available to the public to help calculate the number of hours natural grass fields can withstand and still remain safe." 

2. On the same page, you say "the June 2013 Gale Athletic Fields Assessment & Master Plan commissioned by the City estimates that 'based on original field construction and current maintenance practice…each natural turf field is capable of experiencing no more than 250 team uses per year without detrimental break down of the turf.' They define a team use as '10-20 persons using the field for a 1-2 hour event.' The event number translated to maximum time equals 500 hours." Considering that the Gale study was basing their estimate on field construction and current maintenance, this needs to be reconsidered. Our fields were all poorly constructed and have had abysmal maintenance. Since the whole point of a new Parks and Rec department is to better maintain our fields, and since an entire section of the revised plan addresses how to better maintain our newly constructed fields, Gale's recommendation is no longer valid. 

3. On page 38 under best practices, natural grass diamond sports fields have an 800 hour use limit. On page 56, Trum is listed as a field "in relatively good condition that we do not intend to overhaul." On page 84, the chart says that Trum Field has 2,094 hours of permitted use, which is over two and a half times the permitted hours recommended for best practices. Please explain the discrepancy of why a field in relatively good condition that is currently sustaining over 2,000 hours of permitted use, needs to be reduced to 800 hours of use.

4. A year's rest time is recommended in the plan after a grass field is seeded and before it can be used. After Chip Osborne's organic grass care forum in Swampscott in April, which Luisa Oliveira and Jill Lathan attended, I spoke with Chip about rest requirements on grass fields. He agreed that a newly seeded grass field does need months of rest, if not a year, but that a sodded field could be used much sooner. While it is more expensive upfront, in his experience he said a sod field is about the same money in the end. I would like the City to talk to Chip or someone else equally knowledgeable about this to learn more about a sod option.

5. On page 89 I believe number 4 refers to organic grass care. Perhaps number 3 does as well, though that is unclear. I go back to Chip Osborne's forum and his assertion that an organically-maintained grass sports field is not only the best choice for the environment, it actually produces the strongest, healthiest, most durable grass field. It doesn't have to be a choice of health vs. usability, because organic gives you both, at least according to Chip, who happens to be an expert in this field. I again beg you to speak to him about this option. He has done it in Marblehead, MA, which has similar use requirements and certainly is in a similar climate to Somerville.

6. Adding artificial turf fields at Winter Hill and Healey is, once again, putting plastic into two of our least green areas of town. I understand that currently there is asphalt at these locations, so we are not removing green space, but think about the rare opportunity we have to actually legitimately add green space in an area of vulnerability.
7. The City is right to address the obesity epidemic. We must find ways to get our residents active and exercising. However, I have not heard any organized youth sports group say that there is more demand to join than the fields can accommodate. Based on available City numbers and the 2010 census, approximately 1,660 (or 18% of our under-18 population and 2% of the total population) play in organized youth sports requiring fields. Turf might allow fewer rainouts but would not increase participation.

Let's focus on athletic activities for the 82% of our youth not in organized field sports. The money used to cover our grass fields in plastic could be better used to increase access to basketball and other exercise programs for more kids. And in the summer, when organized sports are on hiatus, more children would use a grass field than a turf one because grass fields are cooler. On a 93 degree day in September of last year, the artificial turf field at the East Somerville Community School was registering 140 degrees at 2:30 in the afternoon. If we are concerned about the health of our youth, we should make sure that they have access to healthy, cool, natural outdoor spaces. Our fields are the majority of Somerville’s green space. In a city with the smallest amount of green space in Massachusetts, we can’t afford to lose any of our fields to plastic.

8. On page 76 it mentions an RFP for a Fields Maintenance Plan consultant. Who is writing this? What are the guidelines that will be used to determine their qualifications if we do not currently even know what is needed to properly maintain a grass field? 

9. Speaking to the economics of fields, considering that a grass field can be properly maintained for a fraction of the cost of installing an artificial turf one, and considering Somerville needs to fund an additional $50 million for the GLX, as well as construction on the High School, wouldn't it behoove us to attempt a few years of proper maintenance of our grass fields before we pay millions of dollars for the proposed artificial turf fields in this plan? It could end up saving us millions of dollars. And grass improvements can begin immediately.

10. On page 61 it says, regarding artificial turf fields, that "fortunately, there are a number of safe and healthy options to choose from." Currently, crumb rubber's potential catastrophic health concerns are finally being evaluated by the EPA. However, no matter what infill is used, whether it be crushed tires or expensive and short-lived corkonut, or something in between, there is no getting around the fact that the plastic playing surface is hot, its carbon footprint is enormous, its recyclability at the end of its lifespan dubious and expensive, and its destruction of living green space certain. Once plastic is laid down, the space will not be returned to living plants without extreme expense. It contributes to global warming, both in its production and in its heat output. Grass is cool. In this time on our planet where not just scientists but the general population now believes that human-induced climate change is upon us, it does not make sense to increase our heat output and use of environmentally destructive materials. We need to make sacrifices if we want Earth to remain livable. We are faced with a choice: plastic perfection on our sports fields vs. the health of the planet we will leave for our grandchildren.

We truly can achieve significantly greater use of our grass fields with a little guidance. We have nationally-recognized industry leaders working in the greater Boston area. Please consult with them before we permanently destroy the little green space that we have. I have given Arn, Brad, Luisa, and Jill the contact info for a few of these experts, but I am happy to resend it if need be. 

Somerville needs more green space and more use of our fields. We are trusting the City to thoroughly investigate all options as they move forward with improvement plans.


Renée Scott
Green & Open Somerville

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Thoughts on the Union Square Neighborhood Plan as submitted to the Planning Board

‘Build a sustainable future through strong environmental leadership, balanced transportation modes, engaging recreational and community spaces, exceptional schools and educational opportunities, improved community health, varied and affordable housing options, and effective stewardship of the land.’
Somervision’s Shared Community Values
(pg 34 in the Neighborhood plan)
Planning Board Members,
Here are comments from Green and Open Somerville and Somerville Climate Action on the Union Square Neighborhood Plan:
Somerville must define Green Space separately from Open Space. The EPA defines green space as “land that is partly or completely covered with grass, trees, shrubs, or other vegetation. Green space includes parks, community gardens, and cemeteries.”
We would add: Green Space is anything that requires sun, water, and soil for its survival. It must release oxygen into the air and sequester carbon into the soil.
Somerville must measure our current amount of green space and set this amount as a minimum requirement for green space in Somerville. We have so little already, that we cannot afford to reduce this amount. But to increase green space, as stated as one of the goals in Somervision, we need to know how much we have right now.
The plan’s proposed 15% Open Space is unacceptable. The community has been asking for more green and open space from the outset. 34% is our recommendation, and the recommendation of the CAC.
We would like that certain percentage be green (⅔). Our definition of green space can be achieved on the vertical axis (living walls) and on terraces and rooftops.
We need to make Open Space a priority. It makes a city a more desirable place to live. Green and open space also increase the nearby property’s value.  
All train tracks must be covered within 100 yds of recreational and green spaces.
Air pollution created by trains is harmful to humans, especially when exercising. No field should be placed within 100 yds of busy streets or trains due to nanoparticles and their detrimental health effects. Tufts has done studies on this:
Of Rooftops, Walls, and Parking: No structure in Union Square can have parking on top of a building. All top levels of buildings, including parking garages, must be devoted to sustainability. They must be fitted with photovoltaic solar panels, have a green roof (plants and soil), and/or have a blue roof (water collection), etc. Our new way of thinking should focus on lowering, if not completely eliminating, the environmental impact of our structures.
Living green walls and roofs must be required for all new construction. If it is on a private building, we should offer an incentive to encourage the owner to allow public access. These green roofs and walls do not count towards our green space minimum or goals, but are vital components of creating a healthy urban environment. Painting one’s roof white is not enough.
All new roofs must have the structural capacity to support urban agriculture, playing fields, or rooftop parks.
Green Space Proximity: The same rules of how close one must be to a playground must also apply to green space.
Green Space in Union Square: We MUST have green space and recreational space in Union Square. It cannot be shunted to Boynton Yards.
The Community Path cannot be considered green until it is green: Mounds of crumb rubber, tiers of artificial turf, and condo landscaping (mulch with a smattering of plants) is not green.
Streets, Civic Space and Open Space: If a passenger car or bus can legally drive on it, that space cannot be counted towards our open space nor civic space.
Ricky's: Removing Ricky’s and replacing it with a mini-park does not make sense. His space is valuable to our community and is already a green area where people congregate.
Accessibility to green space must be more rigorous for our elders: Gardening, planting flowers, listening to music, playing games, and relaxing is a must to maintain a high quality of life for our most precious and most neglected citizens. They need a place to sit and be that is not a playground.
All public spaces must adhere to Somerville's Green Space Standard: This future ordinance will  be similar to that of New York’s City’s Biodiversity and Sustainable Public Landscapes’ one; but Somerville’s will be better.
Its aim is to get carbon out of the atmosphere, create biodiversity, increase green space, reduce stormwater runoff, reduce the amount of maintenance for our landscapes, foster curiosity, educate the citizens, provide beauty, plant native trees, shrubbery, flowers and grasses to reintroduce native ecology back to the city and reintroduce urbanites to the native flora and fauna that used to live here, support bees, birds and butterflies, create an urban wild/forest, mitigate pollution, make better tree well designs so the trees we plant survive, include more planting strips and bioswales, construct sustainable sidewalks that use green design principles, save money and make our city a pleasant place in which to live.
Civic Space: We would like to see more renderings of our civic spaces. This has been a Somerville Priority from the outset. We want our city to be a community focused on the health and well being of its citizens.
Affordable Housing: It says in the mission statement that varied and affordable housing is needed. We need much, much more housing that is affordable to more than just the affluent.
Housing Split: We would like to see the housing split to have much more 3-4 bedroom units. Millennial housing (1-2 bedroom units comprises more than ½ of the proposed housing).
The city has is backwards when they say that study’s and demographics is dictating the kind of housing. We disagree. We believe that the types of housing are dictating the demographics.
We want ALL demographics of people be able to live in Somerville in equal measure.
Redeveloping Grey Fields: Target is the largest Landholder in the area. Yes to redeveloping Target! Yes to reducing a ‘Sea of Parking’!
Using Green Design Standards in Landscaping: Our current landscape practices are antiquated and often do more harm than good. They contribute to climate change, pollute the water systems, decrease biodiversity and have negative health impacts on humans and animals.
By using green landscaping principles we:
Combat climate change by taking carbon out of the air and putting it back in the soil.
Mitigate Stormwater runoff.
Decrease need for maintenance.
Create perpetual self-watering planting beds.
Foster biodiversity.
Preserving the Boston Skyline: It is imperative that we think about how our new development will affect the Boston skyline. The Boston skyline as seen from Prospect Hill needs be preserved for all of Somerville citizens to enjoy. We want Prospect Hill Park to be the highest feature in Union Square and Boynton yards. We would like to preserve the view of Fenway Park from Prospect Hill Monument. It is spectacular to view at night and it enriches Somerville to be able to view this historic landmark.  
Temptation to Overdevelop: Please let us not overdevelop. We need to make the city a livable, desirable place for people.  Without setbacks, open space, and buildings maxed out, we lose the human scale.
Specific plan page notes:
Layout of plan: We are disappointed with the Neighborhood Plan document’s lack of street labeling and reference points. It makes it very confusing to understand where specific areas are.
Page 77: The plan says, “Somerville loves our green spaces.”
According to the Gehl Architects Survey quoted in the Plan, when asked to provide their favorite place, “more than 10% of respondents prefer small intimate parks.” Out of the top five favorite places, number three was Prospect Hill Park and Union Square Plaza was five. What were one, two, and four? Where did Lincoln Park or the Community Path rank on that list? What did the other 90% of respondents say?
On Somerville’s love of small intimate parks:
We only have small parks in Somerville. Of course we love them because they are the only green space we have! The takeaway from the Gehl Survey should be that we love our green spaces, not that we prefer smaller parks.
From an outside perspective, Prospect Hill Park may seem small, but it is one of the largest green spaces we have. We would like parks the size of Prospect Hill and larger.
It would also be wonderful to incorporate an “Emerald Necklace”, something like the Rose Kennedy Greenway or Highline Park in New York City. We need more seating, art, recreational aspects and water features throughout these landscapes.
Page 80: The land for Merriam Street Park needs to be set aside before the green line is established. A Green Space fund for a rainy day is not enough. It leaves too much up to the future, which is unknown. Green space must be designed concomitantly while other parcels are being developed - i.e., if D2 is being developed, the proposed Merriam Street Park must be built at the same time. This will assure that the green space we want, deserve, and are planning for will actually come to fruition.
Page 80/81: The plan says, “15% of land being developed must be civic space.”
Does ‘civic space’ include sidewalks? If that’s the case, the sidewalks would compromise more than 15%. Is 15% the total volume of the buildings or the footprint? We need more civic space.
General Questions/Comments:
Is the proposed future zoning being adhered to while buildings are being erected now? The sidewalks in front of 193 Washington Street seem quite narrow for the size of the building. The structure is built out to the sidewalk. What does the proposed new zoning say about sidewalk widths and setbacks?
Are sidewalks considered part of the public space/civic space?  What's the difference between open and civic space? What is the difference between public space and civic space?
When do electric buses come to town? Is there grant money we can apply for?
Can we do modular housing stacked atop each other like they do in Cambridge?
What are the specifics on the millennial condos?
Is the Planning committee voting on an aspirational document or a set in stone one?
What is the legal significance of the Neighborhood Plan?
Somerville has an amazing opportunity at this moment to set the model of what it means to be the New American City. We want to be the standard by which all cities are measured. If we commit the to community values as iterated in Somervision, and commit to the community’s vision of what Somerville should be, we will achieve it.
We fear if the City and Planning Board do not hear our concerns to improve the Neighborhood Plan, we will fail at this goal.
We would have liked to have more time on this document and have a chance to compare our findings with more members of the community. But we appreciate the extra week.
We will continue to be vocal. We hope the city and the Planning Board will put the concerns and goals of its citizens ahead of those of the developers.  
Thank you for reading our commentary.
Green & Open Somerville
Somerville Climate Action