A "naked intersection" in Magoun Square, a tower in Gilman Square and a new bridge lined with storefronts in Ball Square: Those were some of the ideas presented Tuesday night for the future of those city squares.
The proposals were the results of the Somerville by Design process, intended to prepare the city for changes that would come with the extension of the Green Line through the city.
Jeff Speck, former design director at the National Endowment for the Arts and author of "Walkable City," served as a consultant for the city on Somerville by Design.
The Green Line Extension, which is scheduled to come to Gilman, Magoun and Ball Squares around 2019, is a "game changer," he said. "The neighborhoods [will] change."
"The purpose of this planning process is not to have them change by accident but have them change by design," he said.
Somerville by Design sought ideas, opinions and advice from Somerville residents at a "visioning session" in October, 2012, and at a two-day forum held in November of 2012. Speck and Somerville planning director George Proakis presented the results of that process Tuesday at a well-attended meeting held at The Center for Arts at the Armory.
Preparing for change
In general, the proposals seek to make the squares more vibrant as neighborhood business centers and more friendly for pedestrians, two things that go hand-in-hand, according to Speck.
A vision for Magoun Square, for instance, would include the so-called "naked intersection," otherwise called a "shared space," Speck said. It would consist of a pedestrian plaza at the intersection of Broadway, Medford Street and Dexter Street in which pedestrians, bikes and cars would co-exist without the aid of traffic signals. Doing so would help the square become a more attractive destination for pedestrians and shoppers.
Gilman Square, at the intersection of Medford Street and Pearl Street, would include a similar pedestrian square, according to the Somerville by Design proposal.
Ball Square was less fleshed out, mainly because the MBTA is still deciding on where to position the proposed Green Line station, but one goal would be to encourage pedestrians, using new development and architecture, to cross the bridge toward Magoun Square.
The presentation, which includes drawings and some explanations, will eventually be available at the Somerville by Design website along with other materials connected to the program. The site is worth taking a look at.
Change needs zoning
The Somerville by Design proposals represent a vision for the squares, and change could take years.
Overhauling the city's zoning code is a major part of the process, explained Proakis, because it's the zoning code that encourages and allows the sort of change envisioned by Somerville by Design.
That process, itself, could take time, Proakis said.
Somerville by Design is funded by a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Sustainable Communities program, and that grant ends at the end of this year, so Proakis is hoping to have at least a draft of a new zoning code by then.