Last week, Wal-Mart announced that it is abandoning its plans for Somerville (and Watertown).
This is a huge victory for Somerville. And while Wal-Mart claims that it was strictly a business decision, I'm sure part of their calculus was the growing opposition by small business, environmentalists, labor and many residents to having a Wal-Mart store in our community.
It's particularly significant that this coalition has come together -- and been successful -- around a major development issue in Somerville. But now what? We can't just be negative; our victory obligates us to offer positive alternatives.
We need to use the same energy and determination that we used to beat Wal-Mart to develop our own alternative vision of economic development for the community. Development that is homegrown, green -- and most importantly -- much more inclusive and democratic.
SomerVision -- the comprehensive plan that was endorsed by the Board of Alderman and adopted by the Planning Board – designates the 125 acre Assembly Square as a "Transformational" area where our city will have 8,500 new jobs and 2,500 housing units. Very worthy goals indeed!
Yet, thus far, the vision for the Assembly Sq. has been nothing but corporate: cookie-cutter Avalon Bay housing, Ikea, and chain store retailers with discount stores. Can you imagine anything more sterile and boring? Who would really want to live or work there?
We need to put Somerville back into Assembly Sq.! Along with much more affordable housing (have you seen the rental prices at MaxPac?), it needs a farmers market, studios for artists and musicians, affordable space designated for locally-owned businesses and an incubator for coop businesses and other start-ups integrated into the overall design plan.
Just as importantly, Assembly Square must be a source for the good union jobs our community needs with a significant percentage earmarked for local residents.
The former Circuit City site in Assembly Square might be the perfect place for us to start. It could forever symbolize the turn-around in Somerville's development philosophy that Wal-Mart's withdrawal inaugurated!