By Alison M. Leary

The Northland development is a tremendous opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and transform what is now a 22-acre desert of broken pavement and decaying buildings into housing, retail and greenspace. Forty percent of the site will be green space, native plantings and new trees. All the buildings will be energy efficient and at least 3 of the buildings will be built to passive house standards. This is huge! This is why Green Newton, Mother’s Out Front and the Citizens Commission on Energy, among others enthusiastically endorse the Northland development.

There is a broad understanding within the environmental community of the connection between density and the more efficient use of resources. Smaller, energy efficient living units, walkable neighborhoods and having options to driving are critical to meeting our climate action goals. Good data shows that it is how we use land that is most impactful in shortening travel distances and reducing overall travel demand. This model is how we will finally make a dent in reducing GHG emissions from the transportation sector.

Some complain that the project is too big. But a significantly smaller project could actually make traffic worse, whereas a larger project can support a robust traffic demand management (TDM) program which includes free electric shuttle service to the Newton Highlands Green line. By putting policies in place that incentivize options to driving and which does not offer the usual subsidies to driving (like free parking) we will both self-select for residents who are willing to live either car free or car “light” and enable a robust transportation management plan that offers reasonably priced and convenient options to driving alone in a car. This is about planning a place for people rather than around the automobile. We complain about the traffic congestion but we shouldn’t be surprised by it. We have been planning for it for the last 80 years.

It’s also important to remember what can be developed by right, that is without the City having any control in shaping the development. Maximum build-out under the current zoning code allows 1.5 million square feet of commercial and office space (a big traffic generator!). There is no requirement for open space or traffic mitigation. Northland could decide to go 40 B without the perks being offered now, like the $1.5 million towards the renovation or reconstruction of the Countryside Elementary School, all the while adding hundreds of residential units.

Let’s shape the future together. Vote “yes” on March 3rd in support of a more sustainable, a more walkable and a more vibrant Newton.

Alison M. Leary is on the Newton City Council, Ward 1.
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