On Saturday, April 9, 2011, planners from around the country traveled to Mattapan, a neighborhood in the southern part of Boston, to focus on the potential redevelopment of a former auto dealership site.

Hosted by a local committee, this group of experts took part in an AICP Community Planning Workshop in conjunction with the 2011 APA National Planning Conference. They focused on the Cote Ford Site, a brownfield that has been abandoned for decades. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has announced the opening of a new station near this site, which is located on the Fairmont Commuter Line.

Cote Ford is a multi-parcel area nearly three acres large with great potential for new development. The property owners have been absent and, recently, the largest parcel has been foreclosed upon. The remaining properties are waiting for foreclosure, and future development will be handled by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the Neighborhood Housing Development Agency of the city of Boston.

The workshop day began with a neighborhood bus tour and a short site visit on foot. The investigating group attracted questioning community members, highlighting the importance of this site. Everyone is in agreement that something needs to be done with the area, and this workshop is part of the overall development plan being explored by the city of Boston.

The intended outcome of this workshop is the beginning of a visioning process for the future of the site. It marks only the beginning of a robust community engagement plan to hear the voices of local residents.

After seeing the site, workshop planners joined a group of community stakeholders at the Mattapan Branch of the Boston Public Library. The new, architecturally inspiring library itself is an investment made by the city, solidifying the commitment the government has to enhancing the community. Representatives from BRA presented background information about the area.

Community members present expressed their concerns about how the development would progress. After this opening, planners and community members went into four breakout groups for discussion.

Each group facilitated discussion in a unique way, but the community shared its values, concerns, and ideas about the neighborhood and specifically the potential for the site.

After discussion, the groups reported their ideas, including lack of greenery in the neighborhood, high home ownership rates, and the hope that uses on the site will be family-oriented and promote educational programs. A common theme throughout the groups was that the site has a great potential to be a gateway to Mattapan because of the location and makeup of the parcels. People are looking to create a new image for the neighborhood, while conserving the existing community feel. All agreed that the sooner something happens the better.

The groups then returned to create an "Elevator Vision Statement," referring to pitching a quick, yet profound idea to someone while riding an elevator. The goal was to summarize and articulate the most essential points from the morning session. The groups used a straw polling technique, where each member was able to place a dot near the ideas which were most important to them. This way, those which have the most dots at the end were used to formulate the vision.

After the presentation of each Elevator Vision Statement, everything was brought together by a member of the BRA. Everyone was amazed at the similarities of the statements, highlighting the potential for a strong community consensus in the future. One components of the statement was the idea that the site can be a gateway to Mattapan, as it is time to make a statement. The community would like there to be a mix of uses, with businesses focused on the community. Finally, there was a call to create high quality buildings that will complement the area, retaining the "country feel" the neighborhood enjoys today.

The tone of the community was very positive towards the end of the day, as they were invested in this planning process and want to be involved in the future. They asked for better communication from the city about future workshops and community engagement. In the past, there had been issues of trust from the community towards the city, and this workshop has restored some of that trust. The transformative nature of the day was palpable with the change of opinion from the community. Now, the BRA and the city of Boston have a framework to continue working for the future development of the site. There will be many more community outreach programs in which the residents to participate.

After the community left, the planners discussed the workshop and how it created a neutral space. Instead of the community facing off against the BRA, planners from around the country were able to listen and work together on a task, unbiased.

Community Planning Workshop Final Report (pdf)